Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks Of Sen. Alexander - US-Africa Business Summit On HIV/AIDS

Posted on June 27, 2003

My name is Lamar Alexander. I am a United States Senator from Tennessee. It is my privilege to be Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs. Yesterday you met, and many of you know well, Senator Richard Lugar, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. And a great deal of our business focuses on Africa. Of course for anyone who has the position of Chairman of the African Affairs Subcommittee HIV/AIDS is a priority, but for anyone who has ever been even remotely touched by HIV/AIDS, it is much more than some position. A few years ago in Botswana, a nurse at a hospital there told me that virtually every pregnant mother she sees is infected with HIV/AIDS. You've just heard the statistics repeated once more. They're repeated so often that it's hard to grasp what they're telling us. Over 40 million are infected worldwide, 30 million in sub-Saharan Africa. And young adults especially have been hit hardest by HIV/AIDS, which affects so many parts of society. As young adults, many of them young parents, succumb to AIDS, they leave their children behind. Today there are over 11 million AIDS orphans in Africa. Young adults are part of the labor pool. Some companies are double or even triple-hiring for the same job in hopes that someone survives. Young adults are teachers. Thirty percent of teachers in many countries are infected with HIV/AIDS, putting more children in the streets and fewer in the classroom. Many agricultural workers and many soldiers are in that age group. So AIDS is not only a humanitarian crisis. AIDS is also an educational crisis, an economic crisis, and a national security crisis. But while AIDS is a great challenge, there is cause for hope. In Uganda, we find a successful model for prevention. Anti-retroviral drugs to prevent the onset of AIDS are cheaper than ever before. And leaders - many of whom are in the audience today - are stepping up to the plate because they know that it takes their leadership to fight this terrible disease. A big cause for hope, we believe, is the recent passage and signing of the U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS Act. The act authorizes $15 billion over the next five years to combat HIV/AIDS around the world, with a heavy emphasis on sub-Saharan Africa; it focuses most on treatment and care, but also has a strong focus on prevention. President Bush deserves enormous credit for doing only what a President of our country can do which is to take an agenda and put something at the top of the agenda. And I am very proud of my fellow Tennessean, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has been a long-time advocate of more attention to HIV/AIDS. He has traveled to Africa, taking his vacation to provide medical care since he is a physician. Now we in the United States Senate are focusing on how to implement this $15 billion commitment. Our goals are ambitious:
  • To prevent, if we can, 7 million new infections;
  • To treat, if we can, 2 million HIV-infected people;
  • To care better, if we can, for 10 million HIV-infected individuals and AIDS orphans.
So what you're talking about here today at this meeting is where do we go from here? We each have a role to play, so here is what I am going to try to do:
  • Number one - I'm working on the idea of building an "AIDS Corps," made up of American medical professionals who will go to Africa and who will help train people there how to better provide care and treatment to those infected by HIV/AIDS. There is a real need for greater medical expertise.
  • Number two - We will continue in the African Affairs Subcommittee to put a spotlight on success stories, not just the problem, but success stories. As we work together to make people healthier and to give them life.
  • And number three - In August, our Majority Leader in the Senate, Senator Frist, and I and some of our other colleagues will be going to Africa for ten days to two weeks to see the human face of this tragedy — a face that we recognize clearly and up close. We want to make sure that our commitment is real and we want to make sure that the money we spend is working. In my position, I've had the privilege during these last few weeks of meeting a large number of leaders from African countries. It has been a great privilege to do that, and I admire and respect so many. This week I had the special privilege of meeting the President of one of the smallest countries, the Gambia. That meant something to me because Alex Haley, the author of "Roots," was one of my best friends. He was a Tennessean. He learned the stories of Kunta Kinte sitting on the porch of his grandparents in the west part of Tennessee. And he told the story to the world of the great tragedy that united Africa and the United States, but then he told beautifully of the story of the struggle for equality and the struggle for freedom and made that the focus of the story. Our two countries are united again with opportunity economically but also in a struggle against a great threat, and just as we have done before, we can work together to help make that struggle a struggle that provides opportunity and life for millions of people in Africa. Thank you very much.