We know where we’ve been. We remember the devastation and the heartbreak. The pain of an HIV diagnosis that was tantamount to a death sentence and the shameful initial global response.
And we know where we’re going. The promise of an AIDS-free generation—an end to AIDS-related deaths. An end to the suffering and stigma of a terrible disease. An end to children born with HIV, their promise tragically cut short from birth.
That’s a goal that was unthinkable even five years ago. I remember traveling through Africa some 20 years ago, and I remember the pervasive sense of hopelessness among people ravaged by AIDS with no treatment available, and the predictions among global health experts that HIV would continue to spread exponentially. But with dedication and—critically—vision, we’ve begun to bring this epidemic to heel.
Since President Obama came into office, we’ve amped up PEPFAR’s impact and built on America’s bipartisan legacy of fighting global AIDS. We’ve worked smarter and increased our efficiency. We’ve invested in interventions that have the greatest impact, allowing us to reach more than 7.7 million people with life-saving treatments. And we’ve partnered with all of you and countless others around the world to make sure we’re all pulling together.
But the truth of the matter is, as far as we’ve come, the finish line is not yet in sight. There are still too many new infections, and our progress has been uneven. There are still whole communities getting left behind. So we’ve got to keep stepping up our efforts and making sure we reach every person with HIV. We’ve got to get into communities where infection rates are high or still on the rise, and treatment is hard to come by. Because everybody counts.
At home, the fastest rate of infection is among 13-24–year-old gay and bisexual black men. Teenagers really. It’s a small community with a much higher prevalence of HIV, so the risk of infection is all the greater. That means we’ve got to work all the harder. Because everybody counts.
Around the world, 380,000 adolescent girls are infected each year. And, in sub-Saharan Africa, young girls are infected at about 4 times the rate of boys. On top of that, we’re not reaching nearly as many children with anti-retroviral therapies as we are adults. So we’ve got to do more to prevent adolescent girls from becoming infected and, if they are infected, we’ve got to make sure they’re getting treatment. Because everybody counts.
That’s why I’m proud to announce that the State Department and the First Lady’s office will work together with the Nike Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a new initiative specifically targeted to support, nurture, and educate adolescent girls. It’s called the DREAMS Initiative to help girls develop into Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe women—D-R-E-A-M-S, DREAMS. It will focus on doing more of what we already know works to reduce new HIV infections in girls and young women.
Today, we’re recommitting to the principles that have brought us this far in our work, both at home and overseas. With transparency and the right data, we can continue to build accountable programs, make sure we’re reaching everyone and have an impact. With partnership, we can ensure we’re bringing a comprehensive approach to our interventions. And, with compassion, we can put a permanent end to the stigma that has hampered our efforts for too long, and which still poses barriers to treatment around the world.
We hold this event each year because our work is not yet done. We raise that big red ribbon on the White House each year to reaffirm our commitments, to each other and to all those living with HIV. To the young man right here in Washington, D.C., who just found out he’s infected and doesn’t know where to turn, and to the little girl in South Africa who’s afraid that she won’t make it to her next birthday—you are not alone.
Even as we face many other challenges around the world and confront new epidemics, like Ebola, we must remain focused on this fight. And looking around this room—seeing people from across the government, leaders from the private sector, faith-based organizations, health workers, all united in a shared vision—I’m confident we will reach our goals. So let’s keep working. As the President just said, let’s get this done.
Now I have the privilege of inviting my good friend and our outstanding Secretary of State to the stage. As you know, there has been no more passionate advocate for this cause from the very beginning, first in the Senate and now at the State Department, than John Kerry.