Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515-0128

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ON H.R. 1298

MAY 1, 2003


Mr. Speaker, Not since the bubonic plague swept across the world in the last millennium killing more than 250 million people, has our world confronted such a horrible, unspeakable curse as we are now witnessing with the growing HIV/AIDS pandemic.

In the very short time we will spend today considering this legislation, thousands of people around the world will die of HIV/AIDS.

The number of dead or dying is grotesquely high: 25 million already dead worldwide and growing at a rate of 8,500 every day, with the horror and pain of entire villages populated only by orphans because the adults are dead or dying from AIDS.

I don’t mean to demean the work of this House, but so much of what we do is trivial...

But not today!

We have an opportunity today – the opportunity to do something of significant and lasting importance.

We have an obligation today – the obligation to do something reflecting our commitment to human solidarity.

We have a privilege today – the privilege of doing something truly compassionate.

It is no exaggeration to compare the AIDS pandemic in Africa to the Bubonic Plague in medieval Europe. This Plague took l/3 of Europe’s population, created political chaos, and set the course of civilization back for decades, perhaps centuries. AIDS in Africa is well on its way to doing something terribly similar and similarly terrible. Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal tells us 42 million are infected with HIV-AIDS - 30 million in sub Saharan Africa alone.

Today we meet to consider H.R. 1298, the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS Act of 2003. The legislation authorizes the President’s five-year, $15 billion emergency plan for treatment and prevention of AIDS in those countries already facing crisis.

The legislation creates a more responsive, coordinated and effective approach among the various agencies of the U.S. Government involved in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

The legislation promotes an approach that provides funds for antiretroviral therapy for more than 2 million people living with HIV; encourages a strategy that extends palliative care for people living with AIDS; supports efforts to find vaccines for HIV/AIDS and malaria; emphasizes the need to keep families together, with particular focus on the assistance needs of children and young people with HIV; endorses prevention programs that stress sexual abstinence and monogamy as a first line of defense against the spread of this disease; and contributes to multilateral initiatives that leverage the funds of other donor nations.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is more than a humanitarian crisis. Increasingly, it's a threat to the security of the developed world. Left unchecked, this plague will further rip the fabric of developing societies, pushing fragile governments and economies to the point of collapse. So to those who suggest that the United States has no stake in this pandemic, let me observe that the spectre of failed states across the world certainly is our concern.

Africa is a central concern. Today radical Islam is spreading in several African countries, especially Nigeria. This threatens to undercut democracy and make Nigeria a failed state. It's in our interest to counter this movement by doing what we can to help build democracy and a growing economy in Nigeria and elsewhere. The spread of HIV/AIDS frustrates this most important mission. We also have a strong interest is seeing the development of professional African militaries; militaries capable of maintaining stability in their country, but also capable of contributing to peacekeeping operations elsewhere in Africa. Yet an examination of the HIV/AIDS rates among the armed forces of key African countries, including Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya, reveals infection rates between 30 and 40 percent. HIV/AIDS is a national security issue for those countries hit by the pandemic, and for us.

The President’s proposal is based on America’s deep convictions about the dignity of every human life, and these proposed remedies for the AIDS crisis in Africa recognize that human dignity. In adopting this proposal, we show the world that conviction and compassion go together, as we demonstrate that compassion is not a sign of weakness but of strength.

America does not have to take on the African AIDS crisis alone. But as is often the case, American leadership – political or financial – is necessary if our friends around the world are to bear their fair share of the burden. That is what the President’s proposal does: it sets a pattern of American leadership that others, we believe, will follow.

The AIDS virus is a mortal challenge to our civilization. Let us be animated today by the compassion – and yes, the vision – that has always defined what it means to be an American.