Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks Of Sen. Alexander - Center For Strategic And International Studies HIV/AIDS Task Force Conference

Posted on November 12, 2003

As prepared When the Majority Leader of the Senate, Dr. Bill Frist, reported to a meeting of my subcommittees on the Senate delegation he led to Africa, he said one of the most important lessons we can learn from that trip is that leadership matters. Leadership matters. African countries need strong leadership from the highest levels if they are to effectively combat HIV/AIDS. This morning we heard from a leader who is facing the challenge of HIV/AIDS head-on, and I'm honored to be here with him. Thank you, President Mogae. Africa would be lucky to have more leaders like you. I joined Senator Frist and 4 other Senators on that trip last August, and I had the opportunity to see first hand both the horror of the pandemic - up to 40 percent of the population infected in some countries, including Botswana - and the hope for the future. Some of the hope is found in African leaders, like President Mogae, who are taking a more and more active role in combating the disease. President Mbeki of South Africa, for example, who has had a mixed record on this issue in the past, recently took an important step forward to provide treatment to South Africans living with AIDS. President Museveni of Uganda has shown great dedication to fighting HIV/AIDS, and as a result they have brought the infection rate down significantly in that country. Some of the hope is found in the growing commitment of the international community, led by the United States. President Bush surprised the world almost a year ago in his State of the Union address when he pledged $15 billion over the next 5 years to combat HIV/AIDS internationally. With Congress' support, he's making good on that promise. Congress passed legislation to authorize the President's proposal last May and we are funding it now. I was proud to co-sponsor Senator DeWine's amendment to plus-up this year's funding to $2.4 billion - a reasonable amount to spend in the first year, much of which will remain available for the next year if we find that would be wiser to achieve the greatest impact. There are treatment guidelines to prepare and teach, staff to recruit, patients to find and persuade, health organizations to establish. Ambassador Tobias, the new AIDS "Czar" has his work cut out for him. But let me be clear. President Bush is committed to the $15 billion. We in the Senate are committed to it, led by Senator Frist. It is by far the largest commitment by any nation in the world. So hope comes from African leaders and from international commitment, especially the U.S. But the greatest hope was what we saw happening on the ground in programs and activities already underway throughout Africa. Treatment programs are springing up and growing; the largest is in Botswana where Merck and the Gates Foundation partnered to provide treatment to more than 6,000 people living with AIDS. We saw a project to bring clean water to the people of Mozambique - unsafe water is a major cause for spreading malaria and other diseases that are often the actual killers of AIDS victims since AIDS weakens their immune system and allows other diseases to attack. Programs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV by providing the drug nevirapine are at work in many countries and are growing.