July 23, 2012

Kerry Urges Global Investment in Prevention, Life-Saving Resources at AIDS 2012 Conference

Washington, DC – This morning, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) delivered the following remarks at the international AIDS 2012 conference. 

“Dramatic, life-saving improvements to HIV/AIDS care in this country and across the globe are well within our reach,” said Sen. Kerry. “We only have to be bold enough to demand them, and wise enough to act—to transform today’s hopes for 21st-century HIV/AIDS care into tomorrow’s reality. But this takes money and tremendous effort—it won’t happen by accident, and it won’t happen nearly fast enough unless we fight for it.”

Senator Kerry was an original cosponsor of the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2008, and he worked with former Senator Frist (R-TN) in 2002 on the comprehensive AIDS bill that laid the foundation for the program that became the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). In 2008, as part of Lantos-Hyde, the Senate overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation Senator Kerry wrote with former Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) that eliminated the travel ban that prevented those with HIV from entering the United States. Kerry then worked with both the Bush and Obama administrations to ensure that new regulations would be written and on January 4, 2010 these regulations went into place so that HIV positive individuals would finally be able to enter the country.       

The full text of Chairman Kerry’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, is below:

I want to thank the International AIDS Society for putting together such a terrific Conference. It’s a pleasure to be part of this critical conversation and to share the stage with such a distinguished panel.

The challenge before us is clear: we don’t just need to catch up to where we should have been five years ago—the world needs to invest the resources to put ourselves where we ought to be five, ten and twenty years from now.

This year’s theme, “Turning the Tide Together,” speaks to the tremendous possibility before the world: the chance to reverse and ultimately eradicate the wave of death that has claimed 30 million lives. A future without HIV/AIDS is within our grasp—we just have to be bold enough to reach for it. 

One thing is certain: We’ve come a long way since the days when fear and stigma kept this great gathering from our shores.

Twenty years ago, we couldn’t even convene this conference here because of the U.S. HIV visa ban, which made HIV/AIDS the only disease where our policy was dictated by statutory prejudice rather than public health assessments. Prejudice is never easy to overcome. But, in 2008, Gordon Smith and I successfully fought to get the HIV visa ban removed from U.S. law.

AIDS is not a new issue for me, and I have been proud to work with colleagues across the aisle to roll back this global scourge. One of them may surprise you: Jesse Helms. As he said late in life, “I know of no more heartbreaking tragedy in the world today than the loss of so many young people to a virus that could be stopped if we simply provided more resources.” In the fight against AIDS, Jesse Helms was a convert on the road to Damascus—and to ultimately win that fight, we will need many more converts like him, willing to look inside their hearts and see this cause as a moral obligation.

So we have come a long way. In 2002, I worked with Dr. Bill Frist and many others on a comprehensive HIV/AIDS bill that laid the foundation for what became PEPFAR. Today, PEPFAR supports more than 4 million people on treatment and it has helped bring 200,000 infants into this world HIV-free who otherwise would have been sentenced to a life with AIDS.

Every step forward in U.S. global AIDS policy has been bipartisan. Since 2003, we have invested over $45 billion in the largest international health campaign ever to fight a single disease. This has saved literally millions of lives. Our truly bipartisan efforts in Congress have offered the world a preview of what is possible when our nation's policies and practices reflect the very best of our ideals and principles.

It’s not hard to glimpse the possibilities. As Secretary Clinton has eloquently stated, by eliminating mother to child transmission, we can help create an AIDS-free generation. Recent clinical trials have torn down the false dichotomy between treatment and prevention: we now know definitively that treatment really does prevent further infection. We are continuing to work toward a vaccine, and we have seen how tools such as male circumcision can help stop the spread of this disease. In 2008, along with the visa ban, Congress eliminated the original earmarks that had undermined the impact of U.S. programs. Countries like South Africa have now stepped up and are leading their own efforts to care for their people.

This is exciting news—but it requires a sustained commitment. One study in The Lancet estimates that to make a “substantial dent in both new infections and mortality” will require investments of $22 to $24 billion per year between now and 2015, and sustained investments after that.

Money is important—but so, too, is sound policy. Every day, lives are sacrificed on the altar of narrow-minded policies that criminalize homosexuality and that reject interventions that could rein in injection-drug use epidemics. There are countries that can afford to deal with their epidemics that are turning a blind eye—and there are others that cling to laws and policies that fuel the spread of HIV or that allow stigma to flourish when we should be making it obsolete. And I would put the U.S. ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood in that category.

Actions matter—and we still have unfinished business ahead. Four years ago, Congress overwhelmingly reaffirmed America’s commitment to this fight by reauthorizing PEPFAR. The Foreign Relations Committee is now exploring where our programs should go next. Clinicians talk about the AIDS Transition, when treatment begins to overtake new infection, but in reality there’s a second global transition underway—where in-country leadership is overtaking direction from Washington, where science has trumped ideology, and where together we are getting the most bang for every dollar we invest.

Some will claim that in the midst of a global economic crisis, we do not have the luxury of leading on this issue—that we should scale back PEPFAR and reduce U.S. support for the Global Fund. But this is precisely the moment when our investment is most needed so our past investments are not lost.

We know the difference we can make—because our history has proven it time and again.

In 1796, a British physician named Edward Jenner developed the world’s first vaccine. Ten years later, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Future nations will know by history only that the loathsome small-pox has existed.” It took another 170 years to realize Jefferson’s vision—but the eradication of smallpox was one of the great public health triumphs of the last century. Think of the price that the world would still be paying if we had abandoned that fight halfway through. 

We are at a similar crossroads today.

And the science is clear. We need to link HIV and TB programs more effectively: it will save lives, save money, and help curb a drug-resistant pandemic that threatens us all. We need to support testing and treatment for pregnant women and then sustain it. We need to support proven interventions and new technologies that prevent HIV transmission. And we need to help countries build sustainable health systems to undertake these tasks themselves.

For all this to happen, we need real leadership—from the boardrooms to the halls of Congress to the parliaments of every AIDS-affected country in the world. And we are all AIDS-affected. 

Dramatic, life-saving improvements to HIV/AIDS care in this country and across the globe are well within our reach. We only have to be bold enough to demand them, and wise enough to act—to transform today’s hopes for 21st-century HIV/AIDS care into tomorrow’s reality. But this takes money and tremendous effort—it won’t happen by accident, and it won’t happen nearly fast enough unless we fight for it. 

Those are the stakes, folks. And nothing gives me more hope in your ability to make a difference than the words of Bobby Kennedy when he visited South Africa in 1966, when Nelson Mandela was in prison, and when apartheid and fear held South Africa in their grip. His words are just as relevant today as they were then: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” This is our moment to stand up for an ideal. And, through our actions, to send forth tiny ripples of hope that stretch from capital to capital across the globe, building a current that will sweep down the walls of AIDS once and for all.

Thank you and God bless.


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