TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
Twenty years ago, no one had ever heard of the human immunodeficiency
virus. Yet, today, it is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. In
sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is the leading cause of death, killing 5,500 people
and infecting 11,000 new victims each day. In our own country, we learned just
last week that the rate of HIV infections is no longer declining. Despite these
grim statistics, though, there is cause for optimism.
Last year, on World AIDS Day, my husband spoke about the growing tragedy
of children orphaned by AIDS, and directed his Office of National AIDS Policy
to lead a fact-finding mission to Africa. What they found is a human, economic,
political and social catastrophe that touches each and every one of us. If we
don't take steps to stop it today, what we are witnessing in Africa will most
likely be repeated in India, Southeast Asia and the Newly Independent States of
the former Soviet Union.
Although AIDS kills indiscriminately, the disease is stalking women and
young people in Africa disproportionately. More than half of all new HIV
infections are among women, shattering families and placing extraordinary
burdens on the villages that have been the backbone of the child-rearing
In addition to isolation and stigma, the destruction of
families threatens child welfare in unprecedented ways. In many places,
one-quarter of the children are living with an HIV-positive parent, and are
destined to be orphaned by the end of this year. Over the course of the next
decade, more than 40 million children will lose one or both parents to AIDS.
An entire generation of Africa's children is in jeopardy.
AIDS is not only causing unfathomable human suffering, it is also wiping
out decades of progress on a host of development objectives. Life expectancy in
Zimbabwe has dropped by an unbelievable 25 years. In the coming decade, child
mortality will triple. In the Ivory Coast, one teacher per day dies of
HIV/AIDS. And despite steady advances in access to education, a rapidly
increasing number of children, particularly girls, is dropping out of school to
work or care for dying parents. Far too few are finding their way back.
Zambia, 100,000 children, most orphaned by AIDS, are living on the streets of
Lusaka. In an effort to survive, many are forced into crime, sex and drug
operations, and we can only assume that HIV is spreading rapidly among them.
Not surprisingly, this extraordinary level of human devastation is
jeopardizing economic growth and threatening political stability. Over the
course of the next 20 years, it is predicted that AIDS will reduce the
economies of sub-Saharan Africa by as much as 25 percent.
AIDS is not just an African problem. It is a worldwide problem, and it
is time to act.
Our efforts in this area must be part of our overall
development policy. Leadership, combined with sustained investment, has made,
and can continue to make, an extraordinary difference. Uganda's President
Yoweri Museveni demonstrated bold leadership early in the epidemic by
developing a plan to reduce the stigma and transmission as well as to support
those who became sick. As a result, infection rates in urban Uganda have been
cut in half.
Over the past decade, the United States has invested with the Ugandan
government, other donors and non-governmental organizations to provide HIV
prevention, care and support. When I was in Uganda, I saw the results at the
AIDS Information Center I visited and on billboards exhorting Ugandans to
protect themselves against the disease. Now, momentum is building, and other
African leaders are speaking out as well.
In July, the Vice President, calling AIDS in Africa the "worst
infectious disease catastrophe in the history of modern medicine," announced
that the administration would seek the largest-ever budget increase in the
global battle against AIDS, an increase that would allow us to more than double
our efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, several new initiatives,
including a UN Conference on Children Orphaned by AIDS and a G-7 debt-relief
agreement that will allow countries to target new resources for combating the
disease, will encourage public and private groups around the world to become
As part of this initiative, this week at the White House, I convened a
meeting of senior government officials, corporate CEOs, representatives of the
World Bank, the United Nations, international foundations and community groups
to discuss how best to enhance and coordinate our AIDS efforts in Africa and
around the world.
The global battle against AIDS has just begun, and we know the worst is
yet to come. But the faces of the world's children beckon us -- especially
members of Congress -- to act now. It is time to develop the capacity and
partnerships we lack, not only to seek a vaccine, but also to care for those
who are suffering from this dreadful disease today.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past
columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at
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