Leading the Fight Against Global HIV/AIDS

The following is text of remarks delivered on the Senate floor. 

May 14, 2003 – Senate Floor Remarks

Mr. President, the size of HIV is about 100 nanometers. That is tiny, microscopic, and invisible to the naked eye. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. If you divide 3 feet, into 1 billion parts, and take 100 of those parts, that is the size of HIV. That is 2,000 times smaller than a human hair.

Yet that little virus casts a long shadow of death. Reaching across oceans sweeping across continents, burrowing deep into even the most remote villages on Earth, AIDS–the disease that virus causes–has killed 23 million people since it was discovered in 1981. Forty-two million people are living with the HIV virus right now. And another 60 million people could die by 2020.

Those are daunting statistics. They paint a dark landscape. But they do not reveal the individual rays of light that have been dimmed by HIV/AIDS. The loving mother who left her child to fend on the streets.  The caring husband who left his wife to support their family. The innocent newborn who left the womb facing not a bright future, but an early death.

Nowhere is there a greater threat to life today than in the AIDS-ravaged parts of the world: Africa, the Caribbean, and soon China, India, and Russia. Millions of lives have already been lost. Millions of more lives will be lost unless we act. But if we do act, if we summon the moral courage to shine light into the long shadow of this little virus, we will change the course of history.

HIV/AIDS has a tremendous impact on a society and an economy. In Zimbabwe, AIDS will wipe out 20 percent of its workforce by 2005. Kenya has reported in recent years as many as 75 percent of the deaths in law enforcement are AIDS-related. In countries with HIV prevalence rates of 20 percent or higher, economic growth, GDP, drops by an average of 2.6 percentage points per year. Economies are shrinking solely because of this little virus. That, my friends, causes hopelessness to prevail.

But we are still losing the battle against the virus. The problem is getting worse, not better. The virus is spreading like wildfire. By 2010, China will have 10 to 15 million cases of HIV/AIDS, and India is likely to have 20 to 25 million cases–the highest estimate for any country. Every 10 seconds brings 1 AIDS-related death and 2 new HIV infections. For every 1 person who has died over the last 20 years, 2 more will die in the next 20 years.

We have a moral duty to lead the world in this fight, . . . to devote more resources and manage those resources so they get where they need go and help the people who need help.

At the end of the week the Senate will take up H.R. 1298 authorizing the President’s emergency plan to fight AIDS. The House passed this bill with overwhelming support, 375 to 41. All but one of the House Democrats voted for the bipartisan compromise. This bill is not perfect. But we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The President will sign this bill as it currently stands.

We will defeat HIV/AIDS. As a Senator, as a doctor, as a medical missionary, I have committed to this cause. The President has committed to this cause both in word and deed.

History will judge whether a world led by America stood by and let transpire one of the greatest destructions of human life in recorded history–or performed one of its most heroic rescues. President Bush has opened the door to that latter possibility. We must pass this legislation now and get this program established without further delay.

The President’s Global AIDS Initiative is a rare opportunity to enact legislation that will save hundreds of thousands–millions–of lives. This is our moment.