Indian Treaty Room
November 29, 2018
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Ambassador Birx, for that kind introduction. And, more importantly, I want to say thank you to Ambassador Deborah Birx for a lifetime of leadership advancing the fight against HIV/AIDS, and, since 2014, as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. We are grateful for your leadership. (Applause.) It’s made a difference.
To my friend, Congressman Chris Smith, to Ambassador Green, to Dr. Fauci, to Michel Sidibé, to distinguished faith and business leaders, and honored guests, it is humbling for me to join you all today, just a few days before the 30th Annual World AIDS Day, to make the 15th anniversary of PEPFAR, the most extraordinary and successful American humanitarian initiative in history. (Applause.)
And everyone in this room represents organizations, businesses, and faith-based organizations who played a critical role in implementing this extraordinary success and advancing the progress that we have made, not just over the last 15 years, but over the last 30 years, combating HIV and AIDS.
And as I begin, let me bring greetings from a friend of mine who is a leader committed to the health and well-being of the American people, and has brought new and renewed American commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS here and around the world. I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
And on behalf of the President and the First Family, welcome to the White House.
This Saturday, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. And as the President said on that occasion just last year, it is a day to remember “those who have lost their lives to AIDS.” But it’s also a day to “celebrate the remarkable progress” that “we have made in combating this disease,” and to “reaffirm our ongoing commitment to end AIDS as a public health threat.”
And so we gather here today with so many faith communities and organizations that have led the fight against this terrible disease. And it gives me great joy to say that because of your remarkable work, and the continued commitment of the American people, and the support of leaders in both parties in the Congress of the United States, we are closer today than ever before to ending the AIDS crisis in our time. (Applause.) It’s true.
Now, the credit for this achievement is widely shared, but faith-based organizations and faith communities like those represented here have played a preeminent role. And the leaders in this room have inspired countless others to put hands and feet on their faith and bring hope and healing to literally millions of people around the world suffering with HIV/AIDS.
It is out of a faith tradition — that I share with many in this room — we’re commanded that when we’re sick, “you cared for me.” And I want to commend each and every one of you for making that faith real in the battle against HIV/AIDS to being there for those in needs.
Thanks to your example, thanks to your generosity, thanks in — to the efforts that the organizations here have made, not only all across Africa but all across the wider world, you’ve rescued a generation from this disease. And every day, one community, one country at a time, we’re achieving what once seemed impossible: We are controlling the HIV/AIDS pandemic without a vaccine and without a cure. It is a remarkable testament to your compassion in your lives. (Applause.)
It’s amazing to think of the progress that we’ve made. Over the past 37 years, HIV/AIDS has infected more than 77 million people worldwide and claimed no less than 35 million lives, devastating countless families and communities around the world.
In response to this health crisis, the American people did as we always do: We mobilized the resources of the nation to fight this epidemic, not just in our own nation, in our communities, but ultimately in every corner of the world.
America has been on a long journey fighting this disease since it first emerged. And much of the progress that we’ve made here at home actually began with one young man’s story. A boy from my home state of Indiana named Ryan White.
Ryan White was just 13 years old when he was diagnosed with AIDS following a blood transfusion in December of 1984. He was given six months to live. His story not only captured the hearts of people across my home state of Indiana, but it captured the attention of the nation and the world.
When he returned to school, facing his diagnosis in that year, he faced discrimination and a stigma associated with the disease, in part due to the misunderstanding about HIV/AIDS at the time. But Ryan and his mom didn’t give up. And Jeanne White-Ginder and her courageous son fought — they fought for his right to go back to school while he was fighting for his life.
Ryan’s story gained national and international attention. His courage and example though helped educate — educate the American people about the realities of HIV/AIDS and it galvanized the United States Congress to act.
In the end, Ryan defied the odds; he would live for another five years longer before being laid to rest in the state of Indiana. He passed away in April of 1990, just a month before he was ready to graduate from high school. And only a few months though later, the Congress of the United States passed the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act. And his legacy lives on to this day. (Applause.)
As we speak, the Ryan White CARE Act continues to provide vital medical services to more than 1.1 million people in the United States living with HIV.
And since the days when Ryan White was first diagnosed, we’ve grown in our understanding of HIV/AIDS and our ability to turn a deadly disease into a manageable and chronic condition.
Since those early days, the number of new HIV infections every year in the United States, I’m pleased to report, has fallen by more than two-thirds — from 130,000 in 1985, to 50,000 in the year 2010.
We’ve also put feet on our commitment not just to confront HIV/AIDS here in the United States of America but to fight HIV/AIDS across the wider world. By the start of the 21st century, the United States was spending more than $500 million every year to combat this disease — more than any other nation.
But we soon realized it was not nearly enough. Antiretroviral treatments were still too expensive and hard to access. HIV was a death sentence for too many around the world. And it was projected that 100 million people would contract the virus by the end of the first decade of this century.
But in 2003 — 15 years ago this year — under the leadership of President George W. Bush, and during my and Congressman Smith’s tenure in the Congress of the United States, the American people acted to confront the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic with American resources and American values. (Applause.)
President Bush’s call to action resulted in one of the most extraordinary bipartisan achievements of compassion in our time: The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, otherwise known as PEPFAR.
While serving in Congress, I was on the Foreign Affairs Committee along with Chris. And we worked in a concerted and bipartisan way to help forge legislation that would put the President’s vision into reality. I was honored to be a small part of that. I was proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my colleagues in those days, on both sides of the aisle, to support its reauthorization in 2008.
Since President Bush signed PEPFAR into law, the United States has devoted more than $80 billion to prevent HIV infections and deliver lifesaving treatments to millions. (Applause.) This investment in those around the world suffering with HIV/AIDS is the largest investments by any nation to respond to a single disease in human history.
And PEPFAR has not only been the largest investment; it has been inarguably one of the most successful investment in healthcare and humanitarian aid in American history. (Applause.)
Thanks to the generosity of the American people and the efforts of the organizations that are so well represented here today, it’s humbling to think, in just 15 years, this American effort has helped save more than 17 million lives and prevented millions more from contracting HIV/AIDS to begin with. And AIDS-related deaths have been cut in half since their peak in 2004. (Applause.)
Like all of you, it’s — this is a cause that’s close to the heart of the American people and close to my heart. And standing before you today, I couldn’t be more pleased with the timing of our gathering. Because, just last night, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate voted to reauthorize PEPFAR, and President Donald Trump will soon sign it into law. (Applause.)
We’re grateful for the strong and bipartisan support in the Congress for this extraordinary humanitarian effort by the American people.
President Trump believes this reauthorization is a critical component of our administration’s commitment to combat AIDS. And it will build on the renewed energy and focus that the President has brought, and our entire administration have brought to this critical issue.
In fact, last year, our administration published the first-ever “Strategy for Accelerating HIV/AIDS Epidemic Control,” which lays out President Trump’s vision and plan to end the AIDS epidemic as we know it.
And as the State Department’s 2018 PEPFAR Strategy Progress Report shows, under President Trump’s leadership, we’re building on our past successes; we’re reaching new milestones in the battle against this deadly disease.
And as First Lady Melania Trump saw firsthand in her historic trip across — across Africa — four African nations earlier this year: As of September 2018, PEPFAR today is supporting more than 14.6 million people with lifesaving [anti] retroviral treatment, compared to 50,000 people receiving such treatments in Africa before 2003. That represents an increase of nearly 3,000 percent in just fifteen years that have access to these lifesaving drugs. (Applause.)
And thanks to PEPFAR, more than 2.4 million babies of HIV-positive mothers have been born HIV-free. More than 6.8 million orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers are surviving and thriving. And over 270,000 healthcare workers have been trained to help save lives in the most vulnerable communities.
Today, as many as 13 high-burden nations are on track to control their HIV epidemic by 2020. Eleven of the fifty-three nations that PEPFAR supports are funding a majority of the HIV response within their borders. And I — I want to assure you, our administration will continue to empower ever more countries to mobilize domestic resources to share more of this burden. We will work with our partners together to confront HIV/AIDS around the world. (Applause.)
With every nation that brings this epidemic under control, the cost of fighting HIV/AIDS around the world also goes down.
Just look at Ethiopia, where PEPFAR assistance has decreased from over $400 million to just $100 million in the last four years, as that country has reached the verge of achieving HIV epidemic control.
That’s what success looks like in the global battle against the HIV, and our administration is committed to investing in the organizations and institutions that are making the greatest impact. And we’ll continue to work very closely with partners around the region and around the world to accomplish that.
That’s why, today, I’m pleased to announce that our administration will invest $100 million in new resources to expand our engagement with faith-based organizations and communities of faith that are on the frontlines of the fight against HIV/AIDS. (Applause.)
This new investment of $100 million in faith-based organizations will increase — will increase the funding to those organizations by a full third. And this will make a world of difference, we believe, in countless lives affected by this disease.
The truth is that this is a sound investment because faith-based organizations, like those in this room and so many others around the world, have been the cornerstone of PEPFAR’s success.
From its very inception — and I remember the debates on Capitol Hill where we ensured that these resources could go to faith-based organizations. From its very inception, it’s been these organizations that have made the greatest difference and it makes sense. In so many communities around the world, it’s the faith-based organizations that were already there — already coming alongside vulnerable families and children. And by empowering those faith organizations, we’ve been able to bring hope and healing to those in need.
In the communities that were hit hardest by this epidemic, these organizations have replaced despair with hope. You’ve provided lifesaving medical care. In fact, in some places, faith-based organizations provide up to 70 percent of healthcare services to people affected by HIV, and PEPFAR provides the resources they need to continue in their works of mercy.
It really is an extraordinary testament about the American people’s understanding of the role that faith and faith-based organizations play in confronting and meeting the needs of healthcare and poverty around the world.
With PEPFAR’s support, organizations like those gathered here, in providing HIV testing and counseling so critical to help people learn their status, prevent the virus from spreading.
You educate families about what it means to live with HIV. You provide those infected with antiretroviral treatment so they can lead full and healthy lives.
I just want to say, on behalf of President Donald Trump, our administration is proud to partner with faith-based organizations across Africa and around the world as we confront HIV/AIDS. (Applause.)
We know, and history teaches, that every dollar we invest in faith-based organizations pays dividends in the fight against this crisis. And your work has made a world of difference among the millions of lives that have been saved since PEPFAR was signed into law by our investment and by those of our partners.
It’s still just one life at a time. I learned of one in particular. And I think, as we think about this issue, we ought not to allow ourselves to be caught up in the numbers because we’re talking about people; we’re talking about real lives. And as the American people celebrate 15 years of this extraordinary success and accomplishment in PEPFAR, we ought to think about it the way that Americans always do, and that is about its impact on the individual and individual lives.
I recently learned one story in particular: A young Kenyan woman named Mercy Millicent, who might not be alive today without the care and compassion she received through the Lea Toto Program, one of PEPFAR’s longtime partners, the Children of God Relief Institute.
Now, “Lea Toto” means “to raise a child” in Swahili. And through this program, with the strong support of PEPFAR, the Children of God Relief Institute has helped raise more than 10,000 HIV-positive children to lead healthy, happy lives –- including Mercy.
Mercy’s aunt took her to Lea Toto after she discovered her HIV status following the death of her mother. There, Mercy received medical care — care she needed not only to survive, but to thrive. She gained confidence. She gained education. And she gained a future.
Well, now Mercy is 22, studying at the Kenya Institute of Management. But, as she said, quote, “I am who I am because of Lea Toto and PEPFAR.” (Applause.)
And the American people can be proud — can be proud of Mercy’s story and the role that we played in her story, and how it’s emblematic of success and hope from despair in the lives of millions.
But I’m also pleased to say that we’re honored to be joined today by the Executive Director of the Children of God Relief Institute — an organization whose leadership and dedication has helped a generation build a brighter future. Would you join me in thanking Sister Mary Owens and everyone at the Children of God Relief Institute for the difference that you make every day? (Applause.)
God bless you. Thank you, Sister Mary Owens. Thank you for your ministry. Thank you for your example.
And let me thank all of you — thank all of you for being here today, just a few days short of World AIDS Day, as we gather in this moment just to celebrate what the American people and our extraordinary partners have been able to accomplish over the last 15 years and the dedication that we’ve all demonstrated in the fight against HIV/AIDS around the world.
We’ve made great progress, but our work is far from over. And as evidenced by the Congress’s action and the President’s renewed leadership, that work will continue until we end the scourge of HIV/AIDS once and for all. (Applause.)
And I believe that day will come — that day will come. Because I have faith — I have faith in the industry and the ingenuity of brilliant men and women of medicine and science as new therapies are developed. I have faith in the extraordinary commitment of people who have put hands and feet on their faith to come alongside people affected by HIV/AIDS in this country and around the world. I have faith that the American people, and this President, and our entire administration will continue to see this cause through.
And I lastly have that other kind of faith. That faith that — that commands us to “not grow weary in doing good,” for in due season, we will reap a harvest of blessing if we do not give up. And that, as President Kennedy said so memorably, our greatest blessing, I believe, comes — to paraphrase him — is when we make God’s work on this Earth, our own. Which is so surely what the American people did when we committed ourselves to this cause 15 years ago. And we will not grow weary; we will not give up, so help us God.
Thank you all for being here. Thank you for your work and your ministry. (Applause.) God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.