NOTE: These are prepared remarks – the actual presentation may have been different than the version below.)
“Partnership Initiative on HIV/AIDS Workplace Education and Prevention”
Good morning and thank you all so much for taking time out of your very busy schedules to be here this today. My name is Sandy Thurman, and I am the Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. As I look around this room, I am encouraged to see so many warriors for justice – from both here at home and from across Africa – gathered together to strategize, energize, and organize in our shared battle against AIDS. As we begin this two-day forum – I am reminded of a saying. Nearly a century ago, Mother Jones said “we must pray for the dead – and fight like hell for the living”.
The harsh reality is that AIDS is a plague of biblical proportion – the worst since the Middle Ages. This year alone, AIDS claimed 10 times as many lives in Africa as all of the continent's wars combined. Each day, AIDS buries another 5,500 young Africans. And yet the epidemic rages on. Every day, 11,000 men, women and children in Africa become HIV+ -- one every 8 seconds. And in the next decade, more than 40 million African children will be orphaned by AIDS – 40 million. But AIDS is much more than a health or humanitarian crisis. AIDS is an economic crisis – with far reaching implications for workers, for families, for communities, for business, and for national and global economies.
AIDS has hit professionals and skilled labor particularly hard – striking down civil servants, engineers, teachers, miners, military personnel, and many more. In Malawi and Zambia, 30% of teachers are already HIV+, and in many cases, teachers are dying faster than they can be replaced. In many communities across the continent – 1in 4 workers – is already HIV+. And too many companies are already seeking to hire two workers for every one job – assuming that one will die of AIDS.
But as devastating as this emergency is, there is both hope and opportunity on the horizon. Together, we have developed useful knowledge and effective skills. Together, we have designed model programs and proven that they can and do work. And together, we can begin to turn the tide.
Today, for the first time, we gather to address the unique challenges of workers and the unique opportunities for unions -- in a world living with AIDS. These discussions are critical to our ability to combat AIDS where it lives – in villages, in cities, in workplaces and in the lives of millions struggling in the face of AIDS.
We know that the workplace is among the most accessible places to provide AIDS education, awareness, and prevention programs – particularly for men who are unlikely to seek out community-based efforts. In the final analysis -- sometimes you just can't beat a captive audience. This is as true in Detroit as it is in Durban. And as we seek to keep pace and even gain ground in this struggle, we must take this message to the people who need to hear it – where they are and in a language they can understand. And if we are to fight like hell for the living – we must act now.
Our battle against AIDS in America, in Africa, and around the world is indeed a shared responsibility. Your presence here today marks a vital first step in what I hope will become a long-term partnership of real solidarity symbolized by shared commitment, collaboration, and constructive action. In the face of challenge after challenge – the labor movement has kept its eye on the prize – and always moved forward. We need that courage, perseverance and hard work in the battle against AIDS – and I thank you all for your presence.