Remarks: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton International AIDS Conference

Remarks: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton International AIDS Conference

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SECRETARY CLINTON:  Good morning, and – (applause) – now, what would an AIDS conference be without a little protesting?  We understand that.  (Applause.)  Part of the reason we’ve come as far as we have is because so many people all over the world have not been satisfied that we have done enough.  And I am here to set a goal for a generation that is free of AIDS.  (Applause.)  But first, let me say five words we have not been able to say for too long:  “Welcome to the United States.”  (Applause.)  We are so pleased to have you all finally back here.  

And I want to thank the leaders of the many countries who have joined us.  I want to acknowledge my colleagues from the Administration and the Congress who have contributed so much to the fight against AIDS.  But mostly, I want to salute all of the people who are here today who do the hard work that has given us the chance to stand here in 2012 and actually imagine a time when we will no longer be afflicted by this terrible epidemic and the great cost and suffering it has imposed for far too long.  (Applause.)  On behalf of all Americans, we thank you.  

But I want to take a step back and think how far we have come since the last time this conference was held in the United States.  It was in 1990 in San Francisco.  Dr. Eric Goosby, who is now our Global AIDS Ambassador, ran a triage center there for all the HIV-positive people who became sick during the conference.  They set up IV drug drips to rehydrate patients.  They gave antibiotics to people with AIDS-related pneumonia.  Many had to be hospitalized and a few died.

Even at a time when the world’s response to the epidemic was sorely lacking, there were places and people of caring where people with AIDS found support.  But tragically, there was so little that could be done medically.  And thankfully, that has changed.  Caring brought action, and action has made an impact.  

The ability to prevent and treat the disease has advanced beyond what many might have reasonably hoped 22 years ago.  Yes, AIDS is still incurable, but it no longer has to be a death sentence.  That is a tribute to the work of countless people around the world – many of whom are here at this conference, others who are no longer with us but whose contributions live on.  And for decades, the United States has played a key role.  Starting in the 1990s under the Clinton Administration, we began slowly to make HIV treatment drugs more affordable, we began to face the epidemic in our own country.  And then in 2003, President Bush launched PEPFAR with strong bipartisan support from Congress and this country began treating millions of people.

Today under President Obama, we are building on this legacy.  PEPFAR is shifting out of emergency mode and starting to build sustainable health systems that will help us finally win this fight and deliver an AIDS-free generation.  It’s hard to overstate how sweeping or how crucial this change is.  When President Obama took office, we knew that if we were going to win the fight against AIDS we could not keep treating it as an emergency.  We had to fundamentally change the way we and our global partners did business. 

So we’ve engaged diplomatically with ministers of finance and health, but also with presidents and prime ministers to listen and learn about their priorities and needs in order to chart the best way forward together.  Now I will admit that has required difficult conversations about issues that some leaders don’t want to face, like government corruption in the procurement and delivery of drugs or dealing with injecting drug users, but it has been an essential part of helping more countries manage more of their own response to the epidemic.  

We’ve also focused on supporting high-impact interventions, making tough decisions driven by science about what we will and will not fund.  And we are delivering more results for the American taxpayer’s dollar by taking simple steps – switching to generic drugs, which saved more than $380 million in 2010 alone.  (Applause.)

And crucially, we have vastly improved our coordination with the Global Fund.  Where we used to work independently of each other, we now sit down together to decide, for example, which of us will fund AIDS treatment somewhere and which of us will fund the delivery of that treatment.  That is a new way of working together for both of us, but I think it holds great results for all of us.  (Applause.) Now all of these strategic shifts have required a lot of heavy lifting.  But it only matters in the end if it means we are saving more lives – and we are. 

Since 2009, we have more than doubled the number of people who get treatment that keeps them alive.  (Applause.)  We are also reaching far more people with prevention, testing, and counseling.    

And I want publicly to thank, first and foremost, Dr. Eric Goosby, who has been on the front lines of all this work since the 1980s in San Francisco.  (Applause.)  He is somewhere in this vast hall, cringing with embarrassment, but more than anyone else, he had a vision for what PEPFAR needed to become and the tenacity to keep working to make it happen.  And I want to thank his extraordinary partners here in this Administration, Dr. Tom Frieden at the Centers for Disease Control and Dr. Raj Shah at USAID. (Applause.)

Now, with the progress we are making together, we can look ahead to a historic goal:  creating an AIDS-free generation.  This is part of President Obama’s call to make fighting global HIV/AIDS at home and abroad a priority for this administration.  In July 2010, he launched the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which has reinvigorated the domestic response to the epidemic – especially important here in Washington D.C., which needs more attention, more resources, and smarter strategies to deal with the epidemic in our nation’s capital.

And last November, at the National Institutes of Health, with my friend Dr. Tony Fauci there, I spoke in depth about the goal of an AIDS-free generation and laid out some of the ways we are advancing it through PEPFAR, USAID, and the CDC.  And on World AIDS Day, President Obama announced an ambitious commitment for the United States to reach 6 million people globally with lifesaving treatment.  (Applause.) 

Now since that time I’ve heard a few voices from people raising questions about America’s commitment to an AIDS-free generation, wondering whether we are really serious about achieving it.  Well, I am here today to make it absolutely clear:  The United States is committed and will remain committed to achieving an AIDS-free generation.  We will not back off, we will not back down, we will fight for the resources necessary to achieve this historic milestone.  (Applause.) 

I know that many of you share my passion about achieving this goal.  In fact, one could say I am preaching to the choir.  But right now, I think we need a little preaching to the choir.  And we need the choir and the congregation to keep singing, lifting up their voices, and spreading the message to everyone who is still standing outside. 

Read more here: Remarks at the 2012 International AIDS Conference.

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