Opening remarks by Sandra Thurman
Director, Office of National AIDS Policy at
The 3rd International HIV Prevention Works Symposium
In conjunction with the
13th International AIDS Conference
Durban, South Africa
July 8, 2000
(Prepared remarks, actually delivery may have differed.)
I am delighted to be here to welcome you to this important meeting. I would like to thank the organizers for giving me the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you as we begin our work here together.
Despite the celebration that surrounded the announcement of new and effective therapies made at the last AIDS conference in Geneva – the stark reality is that this pandemic is far from over. In 1999 alone – nearly 6 million people became infected – more than one every 8 seconds. And here in Africa, AIDS claimed more lives than all armed conflicts waging on the continent combined. In just a few short years, AIDS in Africa has wiped out decades of hard work and steady progress in development and will soon double infant mortality, triple child mortality, and slash life expectancy by 20 years or more. Clearly, AIDS is not just a health crisis, it is a fundamental development crisis, with serious economic, stability, and security implications.
And consequently, it will take all sectors of all societies – public and private – working together – to turn the tide of this relentless pandemic.
It is certainly true that over the last few years we have made great progress in HIV and AIDS care and treatment. But the sad truth is that these therapies are far beyond the reach of the vast majority of HIV positive people around the world. Clearly we have much more work to do if we are to make the promise of this science available to all those in need. In addition, fear, discrimination, and a conspiracy of silence continue to fuel this pandemic and to dramatically hamper our prevention efforts from the parliament to parish, to the program level in all parts of the world.
We must address this pandemic with all its complex challenges as a global community if we are to slow the growing number of new infections and provide care and support for the millions of people already living with HIV and AIDS. We in the U.S. recognize our role as a partner in this fight and are actively working to enhance our efforts in the battle against AIDS both domestically and internationally.
Last year the U.S. Government launched a broad-based initiative called LIFE – which stands for Leadership and Investment in Fighting an Epidemic (LIFE). This $100 million initiative has enabled us to more than double our AIDS work here in Africa and I am hopeful that we will secure an additional $100 million from our Congress in the months ahead. These funds are being used for prevention, home and community-based care and treatment, support for children orphaned by AIDS, and capacity and infrastructure development – all interconnected and essential components of a comprehensive battle plan.
At this point in the pandemic, the good news is – that when it comes to effective prevention strategies – we know what works. We have shown that we have the capacity to move from paper to practice and from research to real results. In communities across this continent and around the world – we have shown that infection rates can be kept low – and even dramatically reduced.
A number of countries including Uganda, Senegal and Thailand have demonstrated the success of combining strong political leadership, substantial and sustained resources, and comprehensive HIV prevention programs. Our challenge is how to bring these successes to scale.
To make this vision a reality, we must all work together – donor nations and host countries alike – to weave our small individual projects and pieces into a tapestry that begins to resemble a comprehensive strategy for dealing with the greatest public health crisis in centuries.
In addition, we must understand and take advantage of the vital connection between care and prevention. In fact, in many ways, care and support are prevention. Help and hope are strong incentives and the more we are able to make them available – the greater our ability to reduce stigma and to increase behavior change.
And finally, we cannot win the battle against AIDS unless we deal with the basic vulnerabilities of poverty and gender. Access to basic education for girls is in fact AIDS prevention. Access to micorcredit loans and opportunities for women is in fact AIDS prevention. Debt relief is in fact AIDS prevention. The list goes on and on. If we are going to be successful – we must ensure that we are not only pushing stand alone AIDS programs but also are including an HIV/AIDS component in each and every one of these efforts as well.
This Symposium is a great opportunity to advance the dialogue and to inspire collective action.
Everywhere I travel I repeatedly hear the call for better linkages between scientists, providers, policy-makers and affected communities. I applaud you for coming together today to do just that – to grapple with the intertwined issues involved in effective HIV prevention and to chart a course forward.
May we seize this moment to learn from each other, to build lasting partnerships, and to take the actions so desperately needed in our shared fight against HIV and AIDS.
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