This morning, on the 20th anniversary of the first World AIDS Day, I attended the Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. At the event, President George W. Bush received the International Medal of PEACE from the Global PEACE Coalition in recognition of his unprecedented contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
In 2003, President Bush promised to lead the fight against HIV/AIDS when he announced PEPFAR– and he and the American people have kept this promise. At the Civil Forum, President Bush announced that PEPFAR has fulfilled its commitment to support treatment for two million people ahead of schedule. As of September 30, 2008, PEPFAR supported life-saving antiretroviral treatment for more than 2.1 million men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS around the world.
To put this achievement in perspective, when President Bush announced PEPFAR, it was estimated that only 50,000 people were receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, that number has grown to more than 2 million.
The American people through PEPFAR have other accomplishments to celebrate as well. As of September 30, 2008, nearly 9.7 million people affected by HIV/AIDS in PEPFAR’s 15 focus countries had received compassionate care, including nearly 4 million orphans and vulnerable children. It is safe to say that as of today, the U.S. has also met the goal of supporting care for 10 million people affected by HIV in the focus countries. Globally, the U.S. is supporting care for over 10.1 million.
Prevention is the heart of the fight against HIV/AIDS. To date, nearly 240,000 babies have been born free of HIV as a result of U.S.-supported programs to prevent mothers from passing the virus on to their children. And through PEPFAR, the American people have supported a comprehensive prevention portfolio which promotes Abstinence, Be faithful, and correct and consistent use of Condoms (ABC) - providing ABC prevention messages in hundreds of millions of encounters. In addition to the balanced, evidenced-based ABC approach, the United States also supports programs that address mother-to-child transmission, blood safety and safe medical injections, male circumcision, injecting drug users, HIV-discordant couples, alcohol abuse, and other key issues.
PEPFAR and similar development programs reflect the compassion and generosity of the American people. As President Bush reiterated today, “I believe in this admonition, this principle: To whom much is given, much is required.” This conviction is not only celebrated by the men, women and children in countries around the world who are alive today because of PEPFAR’s support, but by world leaders. Today, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon , Former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono, Michel Kazatchkine of the Global Fund, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Former President Bill Clinton, and President-Elect Barack Obama all sent video messages, presented at the Saddleback Civil Forum, celebrating the commitment of President Bush and the American people to turning the tide of the AIDS pandemic.
As another sign of the American people’s commitment to combating HIV/AIDS, the White House once again displayed a large red AIDS ribbon from the North Portico of the White House.
As we reflect on the successes achieved and the hope created in the fight against HIV/AIDS, we must also think about the future of our commitment. I know that in a time of economic duress some at home may think we must forego our commitments abroad. But this would be a mistake. The onset of the global financial crisis has served to underscore the interconnected nature of our global community. What affects those abroad affects us at home – and vice versa. During this period of economic volatility, to turn our attention inward and ignore the wider world is a luxury we simply cannot afford.
Now, more than ever, we are seeing countless people in countries all over the world choosing life, saving the lives of their countrymen and women and working towards a future free of HIV/AIDS. It was in this spirit that we celebrate life on World AIDS Day 2008, and it is in this spirit that we must continue the fight against HIV/AIDS.