Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, co-chair, International AIDS Trust, delivers speech, "Action Against AIDS: For the Global Good" on Friday, July 12, 2002

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Thank you very much. Thank you, Maire. Thank you for your speech and for your example, Thank you Jose Maria and Jordi for your co-chairing this conference. And ladies and gentlemen, most of all, thank you for giving your lives to save the lives of million and for a future without AIDS. I want to thank my good friend, Nelson Mandela for being here with me and for co-chairing the International AIDS Trust and I will have a few words to say about that in a moment.

You have now spent a week reviewing the heartless marks of the pandemic, hearing again the heartbreaking stories and the tales of survival and triumph. You have heard again, how much we still have to do to keep the number of infections from going from 40 to 100 million. The number of deaths from exploding from 25 to 65 million. You know what the world is not doing. That fewer than one in five people at risk have access to preventive services. Fewer than one and fifty infected individuals receive the drugs and in Africa, the number is only one in a thousand.

But you have had some good news, too, of a blueprint to prevent 29 million or two thirds of the predicted new HIV infections by the end of the decade – of a plan MTCT Plus to build on preventing mother-to-child transmissions by treating the infected mother and family members for life – of an agreement between the Caribbean nations and the drug companies at last to bring life-saving drugs at dramatically lower prices to a region with the second fastest growing rates of AIDS in the world. And of the continuing evidence that many nations, even some very poor ones, have brought the epidemic under control and are further reducing infections. And of the great work being done by NGOs, including the work of the Gates Foundation in Botswana.

I wanted, most of all, to thank all of you in this room for your heroic efforts. Yes, 25 million people have died but if it hadn’t been for you and your comrades, the number might be 50 million. If it hadn’t been for you and your comrades, the number of infected people might already be 100 million but you are not devoting your lives to make this epidemic a little less bad. You want to stop it, reverse it and end it. By that measure, we’re still failing.

Two years ago in Durban, the world place to end inequities and treatment. We have not done that. A year ago, the U.N. Special Session on AIDS produced pledges to advance treatment and prevention and public awareness by 2003. We are not going to meet the goal. A year and a half ago, a South African court settlement required the drug companies to negotiate radically lower prices with poor countries. And the U.N. had approved generic substitutes from India and Brazil. Yet too few countries have concluded agreements like the one reached by the Caribbean nations this week.

How could we explain to a visitor from outer space this situation? The world is being consumed by a disease that is preventable with drugs that turn a death sentence into a chronic illness and prevent mother-to-child transmission. With example after example of nations that have reversed the infection, how could we explain that to someone who had not lived through it? We live in an interdependent world with great rewards to those who can claim its benefits and universal vulnerability to its problems. We learned that with the threat of terror and we learn it with AIDS, where most of the cases are still in Africa but the fastest growing rates are elsewhere. In the Former Soviet Union on Europe’s back door, and the Caribbean on America’s front door, in India, the world’s largest democracy.

The great conflict of the early twenty-first century is between the forces of integration and cooperation against the forces of disintegration and chaos – between those who believe in a shared future and those who claim a separate future – between those who wish to live in inclusive communities and those who want exclusive communities, composed only of people who think and act alike. We have to more the world from interdependence to an integrated global community – to people who want a shared future in an inclusive community. We cannot do it without defeating AIDS and no one can sit on the sidelines. It is, as it has already been said a threat not simply to our health but to our economic wellbeing and to our very security. A hundred million AIDS cases means more terror, more mercenaries, more war, destruction and the failure of fragile democracies. We cannot lose the war on AIDS and win our battles to reduce poverty, promote stability, advance democracy and increase peace and prosperity. That is why I said it was a security threat when I was President. And that is why every citizen on our small planet has a personal interest in ending AIDS. There is something for everyone to do.

First, the wealthy nations should determine what each share of the $10 billion a year that the Secretary General of the United Nations and the experts who’ve said is required to spend. We should figure out what our share is and we should pay it.

For America, since we are spending about $800 million a year now, we owe a little than $2 billion more or less than two months of the Afghan war, less than three percent of the requested increases for defense and homeland defense in the current budget. For the developing nations, it means concluding negotiations with the drug companies in a prompt way with options to get generic substitutes from India and Brazil or elsewhere. It means developing plans for care and prevention based on what is working in other countries. And then when that is done, developing countries have to determine how much they can pay and send the rest of us the bill for the difference.

It means increasing the role of young people and women in these deliberations because they are being disproportionably affected by the epidemic today. Here in Barcelona, the youth force and the bill of rights for women which have been circulated are examples of what we will have to have more of if citizens around the world are to take ownership of their part of this fight.

And finally, it means leaders everywhere, in and out of government, must move aggressively to end stigma and denial – to stop the stereotyping where it still exists. There are still people who view AIDS as something that affects only people who are different. Yes, people with HIV and AIDS are sex workers and drug addicts and poor and often gay and if you live in a place with a low rate of infection, most of them are from another county, maybe another race. But they’re also our friends and our neighbors.

Among the victims in America was a young boy I knew named Ricky Ray and when I ran for President I championed his right not to be discriminated against when he was thrown out of school because he got HIV from a bad blood supply and he was a hemophiliac. Ricky Ray lived to see me elected but died before I took office. I kept his picture in my White House office every single day when I was President to remind me of the human face of this.

I lost a member of my administration who was a good man, a gay man, a devoted father and a great public servant. We all know the victims. And we also know a lot of the victors. There’s a man here from Nigeria named Johnny Beckway (Misspelled?). He and his wife were embraced on national television by President Obasanjo because they were both HIV-positive and John risked everything to get his pregnant wife the drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission. This is the result – almost four-year old Maria, free of HIV because of people like you.

But make no mistake about it. There is still al lot of stereotyping. There is still an astonishing amount of denial. And there is still even persecution of people who are working on the front lines of this battle. Just last week, Human Rights Watch published a report of unconscionable police abuse of frontline AIDS prevention workers in India – of peer educators facing violence and harassment of training sex workers in prevention – of an AIDS worker who had hot chili powder rubbed in her eyes. And when the workers complained, the local police chief said who cares. They weren’t normal citizens who had the right to complain. And another case AIDS workers reaching out to men who have sex with other men were detained by police for 47 days, part of time without access to drinkable water of sanitation facilities. One was told that happened to him because he was trying to destroy his country by promoting homosexuality. Government must stop this and not just in India but everywhere.

It has been my experience that when people are pitted against others by politicians, they do it either out of fear of political damage or out of a desire for political advantage. Either motive is a rebuke to our common humanity. A common humanity enshrined in all the great religions. The Torah says he who turns aside a stranger might as well turn aside from the most-high God. The holy Koran says that Allah put different people on the earth, not that they might despise one another but that they might come to know one another and learn from one another. In the Christian Gospel, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God but the next is like unto it – to love your neighbor as yourself. In the Dhamma Pada, the Buddhist says never does hatred by hatred cease but by love alone. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna says him I hold highest who suffers every sorry of every creature within his own heart. In our interdependent world, we have to suffer the sorrows of each other. Our differences are differences are important. They make life more interesting but our common humanity matters more.

I saw this yesterday in the MTV conversation with 50 young people from 25 countries. In the town hall meeting with ten current former heads of state willing to make a dramatic commitment of their time and energy to reverse the epidemic-- the first time world leaders have ever deliberated in an open session at the International AIDS Conference.

We are all eager to do more. Before the year is out, I will visit Africa and India to help bring more visibility and offer more support. I pledge that in every speech I make and every private meeting I have I will raise this issue and ask for people to pledge greater efforts. I will do all I can in the United States and around the world to get more money, more action and more understanding. And I ask you both to hold me accountable for that commitment and to give me your ideas on what more I can do.

Last year my friend Sandy Thurman (Misspelled?), who headed our AIDS effort when I was President, asked me to co-chair the International AIDS Trust along with my friend, President Mandela. Nelson Mandela changed history with his ability to see beyond difference and move beyond vengeance. Only very rarely does the world love and respect someone as we all love and respect him. Few leaders in the world have the power he has to help people be better than they normally are. He has lived a few years but I know no one who is younger at heart.

Like the aging Ulysses in Lord Tennyson’s great poem, he has left the governing of South Africa to the children of his sacrifice and has set off to sale beyond the stars in search of a new world, in which the world’s children have their childhood and live their dreams, in which AIDS does not become the burden for the world but apartheid was for his childhood.

So President Mandela and I have agreed to work together to launch the World Leaders AIDS Action Network, composed of the world leaders who are here today from India, Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia and all others we can persuade to join to be at your service, to bring attention and resources where they’re most needed – to raise the global commitment to end AIDS.

Today we all go forth with a fresh chance – to build a great and global alliance – to find a vaccine, discover a cure, prevent new infections, treat the sick and care for the orphans. If we can see ourselves in those who suffer and find our freedom in their release, we will not only change the course of this epidemic but the course of history. I know how discouraging this is for many of you. I know how long you have fought – how many you have buried, how many tears you have shed. But you know, as well as I, that there are now cracks appearing in glaciers of indifference we thought would never melt. In the United States, in his last year in the Senate, Senator Jesse Helms said that his one regret was that he had not done more against AIDS and he asked the United States to spend another $500 million. There are people like that all over the world. Do not give up on anyone. Keep pushing the rock up the hill.

When I was a young man in the hours when I was most discouraged, there was one verse of the scripture of my faith which often kept me going. In gratitude to you, I close with it today. “Do not grow weary in doing good, for in new season you will reap, if you do not lose heart.” Thank you and God bless you all.