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U.N. Security Council Session on AIDS in Africa

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Vice President Al Gore

January 10, 2000

Mr. Secretary General, Members of the Security Council, Distinguished Guests, and, in particular, Honored Delegates from the Nations of Africa:

"HIV/AIDS is not someone else's problem. It is my problem. It is your problem. By allowing it to spread, we face the danger that our youth will not reach adulthood. Their education will be wasted. The economy will shrink. There will be a large number of sick people whom the health will not be able to maintain."

Mr. Secretary and Members of the Council: These are not my words. They were not uttered in the United States or the United Nations. They were spoken by my friend, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, as he declared South Africa's Partnership Against AIDS more than a year ago. The same words should be spoken out not only in South Africa, not only in Africa, but all across the earth. In Africa, the scale of the crisis may be greater, the infrastructure weaker, and the people poorer, but the threat is real for every people and every nation, everywhere on earth. No border can keep AIDS out; it cuts across all the lines that divide us. We owe ourselves and each other the utmost commitment to act against AIDS on a global scale -- and especially where the scourge is greatest.

AIDS is a global aggressor that must be defeated.

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As we enter the new millennium, Africa has crossed the first frontiers of momentous progress. Over the past decade, a rising wave of African nations has moved from dictatorship to democracy, embraced economic reform, opened markets, privatized enterprises, and stabilized currencies. More than half the nations of Africa now elect their own leaders -- nearly four times the number ten years ago -- and economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa has tripled, creating prospects for a higher quality of life across the continent.

Tragically, this progress is imperiled, just as it is taking hold, by the spread of AIDS which now grips 20 million Africans. Fourteen million have already died -- one quarter of them children. Each day in Africa, 11,000 more men, women, and children become HIV positive -- more than half of them under the age of 25.

For the nations of sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is not just a humanitarian crisis. It is a security crisis -- because it threatens not just individual citizens, but the very institutions that define and defend the character of a society.

This disease weakens workforces and saps economic strength. AIDS strikes at teachers, and denies education to their students. It strikes at the military, and subverts the forces of order and peacekeeping.

The United States is profoundly moved by the toll AIDS takes in Africa. At the same time, we know that our own country has not achieved as much as we should or must in our own battle against AIDS. I am pleased that our Surgeon General is here today; his recent report tells us that we have not overcome the ignorance and indifference that lead to infection. We must continue to study the success of others, while we seek to share our progress with them.

As Vice President, I have journeyed four times to sub-Saharan Africa. I have taken along top health officials, AIDS specialists, corporate leaders, and physicians. We have spent long hours with African leaders, heard their ideas, and discussed their difficulties with the fateful crisis of AIDS.

It is inspiring to see so many in Africa -- not only leaders, but health care workers and community workers, mothers and fathers, and countless ordinary citizens -- fighting to save the lives of the people they love. Ten years ago, Uganda was suffering the world's highest infection rates. Today, because the whole nation has mobilized to end stigma, urge prevention, and change behavior, Uganda is now recording dramatic drops in the infection rate. Uganda, which used to be proof of the problem, is now powerful proof that we can turn the tide against AIDS.

We know that the first line of defense against this disease is prevention. And prevention depends on breaking down the barriers against discussing the extent and risks of AIDS. That is one purpose of this historic Security Council meeting. Today, in sight of all the world, we are putting the AIDS crisis at the top of the world's security agenda. We must talk about AIDS not in whispers, in private meetings, in tones of secrecy and shame. We must face the threat as we are facing it right here, in one of the great forums of the earth -- openly and boldly, with urgency and compassion. Until we end the stigma of AIDS, we will never end the disease of AIDS.

We also must do much more to provide basic care and treatment to the growing number of people who, thank God, are living, instead of dying, with HIV and AIDS. This requires affordable medicine, but also more than medicine; it requires that we train doctors, nurses, and home-care workers, that we develop clinics and community-based organizations to deliver care to those who need it. Today, fewer than 5 percent of those living with AIDS in Africa have access to even basic care. We know we can prolong life, reduce suffering, and allow mothers with AIDS to live longer with their children, if we offer treatment for opportunistic infections like tuberculosis and malaria.

Our ultimate goal, our best hope, is to prevent AIDS by vaccination, and we are committed to the maximum possible research. But we need to do more to harness the talent and power of the private sector. In September, in his speech to the General Assembly, President Clinton said it was wrong that only two percent of all biomedical research is directed to the major killer diseases in the developing world. He pledged America to a new effort to speed the development and delivery of vaccines for AIDS, malaria, TB, and other illnesses that disproportionately afflict the poorest nations.

This three-part strategy of prevention, treatment, and research is the right fight. And the United States has contributed more than a billion dollars to wage it worldwide -- more than half of that for sub-Saharan Africa. But we must do more.

Last year, I announced the largest-ever increase in the U.S. commitment to international AIDS programs -- $100 million to fight AIDS in Africa, India, and other areas.

Today, I announce America's decision to step up the battle. The budget the Clinton-Gore Administration will send to our Congress next month will include an additional increase of $100 million for a total of $325 million to fund our worldwide fight against AIDS. This new funding will include efforts:

  • To reduce the stigma and prevent the spread of AIDS;

  • To reduce mother-to-child transmission;

  • To support home and community-based care for people with AIDS;

  • To provide care for children orphaned by AIDS;

  • And to strengthen health infrastructure to prevent and treat of AIDS.

I would also like to announce here this morning that the budget we will send to our Congress next month will include $50 million for the United States' contribution to the Vaccine Fund of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations. This contribution -- in fulfillment of the promise President Clinton made to the General Assembly -- will help fund the research, purchase, and distribution of lifesaving vaccines in developing nations.

I am also announcing today an initiative for an expanded public-private partnership in the battle against AIDS. Indeed, in the coming months, I will convene a meeting of U.S. business leaders active in Africa, to develop a set of voluntary principles for corporate conduct to make the workplace an effective place for the education and prevention of AIDS. Let us also set this goal: through public and private efforts, in partnership with partner nations, we will attack the cycle of infection at one critical point -- its most heartbreaking point -- the moment of mother-to-child transmission.

In addition, I announce that our budget request for next year will -- for the first time ever -- offer specific funding for the U.S. military to work with the armed forces of other nations to combat AIDS. Inside our own country, our armed forces have acted effectively to prevent the spread of AIDS in the military. Secretary of Defense Cohen is ready to share our experience with our military counterparts in Africa.

We are also committed to helping poor countries gain access to affordable medicines, including those for HIV/AIDS. Last month, the President announced a new approach to ensure that we take public health crises into account when applying U.S. trade policy. We will cooperate with our trading partners to assure that U.S. trade policies do not hinder their efforts to respond to health crises.

But to win the ongoing global battle against AIDS, we must also fight the poverty that speeds its spread. In June, in Cologne, we joined with our G-7 partners in the Cologne Debt Initiative, a landmark commitment to faster and deeper debt relief for the heavily-indebted poor countries.

We will continue to engage our G-7 partners to bring greater resources to this effort. Today I challenge the world's wealthier, healthier nations to match America's increasing commitment to a worldwide crusade against AIDS.

But more money is not enough. We must also make sure that more money has more impact. Next July, the global community will gather in Durban, South Africa for the 13th International AIDS Conference. There are many inspiring efforts to fight AIDS all around the world. Right now, they amount to many isolated efforts, not a single focused assault. We must knit together the separate initiatives by local, national, regional, and global organizations, to take maximum advantage of their synergy and success. We will work with the organizers of the Durban Conference to advance this essential objective. It is essential, because how we speed the money, and how effectively we target it, not just how much we spend, will determine how many lives we save.

AIDS is one of the most devastating threats ever to confront the world community. Many have called the battle against it a sacred crusade.

The United Nations was created to stop wars. Now, we must wage an win a great and peaceful war of our time -- the war against AIDS. For all, here and around the world, willing to enlist in this cause, let us hear and heed and take heart from the words of an African poet, Mongane Wally Serote:

"remember
the passion of our hearts
the blinding ache and pain
when we heard the hysterical sobs
of our little children crying against fate. . . .

we heard these, we knew them, we absorbed them
but we surged forward
knowing that life is a promise, and that that promise is us . . ."

That promise is us. We here in this room -- representing the billions of people of the world -- we must become the promise of hope and of change. We must become the promise of life itself. We have the knowledge, the compassion, and the means to make a difference. We must acknowledge our moral duty and accept our great and grave responsibility to succeed.

We must make the promise and keep the promise to prevail against this disease -- so that when the story of AIDS is told to future generations, it will be a tale not just of human tragedy but of human triumph. And the moral of that story will be the capacity of the human spirit to summon us in common cause, to defeat a common foe, and secure the health and hopes of so many of our fellow human beings.

May God bless all who have suffered from this disease. May God bless the united effort of our united nations to end it -- soon and forever.



  
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This article was provided by White House Press Office.
 
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