Opening remarks by Sandra Thurman

Remarks by Sandra Thurman

Director, Office of National AIDS Policy

at the

US Government Press Conference

During the 13th International AIDS Conference

Durban, South Africa

Sunday, July 9, 2000


(Prepared remarks by Ms. Thurman’s, actual delivery may have been different)


I am delighted to be here to join with my colleagues as we approach the opening session of the 13th International AIDS Conference. For those of us who have been doing this work since the beginning – and for the growing army who have joined along the way – these gatherings have always helped to chart a way forward. And each conference provides a fresh opportunity to assess both where we are and where we are going – each time, departing with new information, new energy, and a renewed commitment to fighting on.

But somehow -- this conference is different. For the first time since this pandemic began, the International AIDS Conference has come to the developing world – the frontlines of the battle against AIDS. And as we bear witness to the impact this plague is having on communities likes this one – as I did this morning at King Edwards Hospital and the Ark Christian Ministry – our sense of urgency mounts. Today, as I looked into the eyes of countless children – I was reminded that they do not need more talk – they need action. Now – before it’s too late.

At this conference – I believe a few themes will continue to surface, and will frame the challenges that lie ahead.

First, 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 out of control – and far from over. In 1999 alone – nearly 6 million people became HIV infected – and nearly 3 million died of AIDS. 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. And yet, what we are seeing in Africa is just the tip of the iceberg.

Second, while AIDS is the most devastating public health disaster since the bubonic plague -- AIDS is much more than a health crisis. AIDS is a fundamental development crisis, with staggering economic, stability, and security implications. And consequently, it will take all sectors of all societies – public and private – working together – to turn this tide.

Yet my message today is not one of hopelessness. In fact, at this point in the pandemic – the good news is that we know what works. From Kansas City to Katmandu – and from Kampala to Capetown – communities have come together and made a difference – helping to stem the rising tide of new infections and to care for the growing number of individuals and families caught in the path of this relentless pandemic. With little or no resources – communities have give life and generated hope. Their courage and compassion, their spirit and their strength light our way forward.

Our challenge now is to find ways to support these struggling efforts and to bring these successes to scale. To make this vision a reality, we must work together – donor nations and host countries, policy makers and people living with AIDS – to weave our small individual projects and pieces into a tapestry that begins to resemble a comprehensive strategy for dealing with one of the greatest human tragedies in centuries.

UNAIDS has said that in Africa alone it will require a minimum of $1.5 billion a year to begin to provide a comprehensive HIV prevention program and an additional $1.5 billion to provide even the most basic care and treatment to those already living with AIDS. To date, our collective action falls far short of the mark.

Finally, we cannot win the battle against AIDS unless we deal with the basic vulnerabilities brought on by poverty and discrimination. Access to basic education for girls is in fact an AIDS issue. Access to micorcredit loans and opportunities for women is in fact an AIDS issue. Fighting racism, homophobia, longstanding gender inequality, and the exploitation of children are all AIDS issues. And protecting the dignity and human rights of people living with HIV and AIDS and all people with disabilities is a cornerstone AIDS issue. 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 other efforts as well.

There is no time to rest. For the sake of the millions who lives are in our hands – we must fight on. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: "This is a holy war – and for the sake of the children – we will win".



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