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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Diplomacy Through Science, Technology and Innovation > Releases > 2001

Conference on Global Infectious Disease and U.S. Foreign Policy

Dr. Norman P. Neureiter, Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State
Introductory Remarks on Behalf of Secretary Colin L. Powell at the Secretary's Open Forum
Washington, DC
November 2, 2001

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Department of State. I am Norman Neureiter, Science and Technology Adviser to Secretary Powell. I must confess that I feel this morning a bit like that obscure and now long since forgotten basketball player that was once called on to substitute for Michael Jordan.

As you have just heard, Secretary Powell was called away for an early meeting with the President.

He was disappointed to miss the opening of this conference on a subject about which he holds very strong feelings.

So, let me begin by extending both greetings and apologies on behalf of the Secretary and expressing his personal thanks to the principal and supporting sponsors of today’s event.

These are: the National Academies, the Association of Microbiology and the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Particular thanks are also owed to Alan Lang, Chairman of the Secretary’s Open Forum, as well as to many other colleagues here at State for their hard work in putting together today’s program.

I especially want to commend our good friend and colleague, Dr. Kenneth Shine, President of the Institute of Medicine, for the time that he and the National Academies have devoted to this conference and to providing the best possible scientific and technical underpinnings for our discussions.

When planning began many months ago, one of our goals was to convey a sense of urgency to the American public about infectious disease as a foreign policy and international security issue.

Let me say it again. Infectious disease is a foreign policy and national security issue for the United States of America and for all the nations of the world.

After September 11, and now with anthrax in the mail, I doubt if any of you needs much more convincing. In fact, just three days ago Secretary Powell held a "Town Meeting" in this building to talk to our employees about the bioterrorist threat we face here at State and at our embassies and consulates abroad, and also what we are doing to protect our people. As you know, we still don’t know where it’s coming from and who is doing it. But we must respond and must do so in ways that will often go well beyond the spheres of medicine and public health. Special measures will be needed to counter the threat of bioterrorism.

But, beyond that, the ever-present danger of infectious disease in a world that is globalizing, fast moving and interdependent requires a comprehensive, relentless and swift response. Such a response is needed regardless of whether infection is deliberately spread by domestic or foreign terrorists, or whether it is naturally occurring--such as with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

It is also critical that decision makers base their policies on solid science, and that citizens have accurate and timely information on which to make decisions regarding their health and that of their families.

Though the anthrax threat has suddenly drawn public attention to the complex challenge of dealing with infectious disease, a host of U.S. Government agencies have been working for many years on preparedness for outbreaks of such diseases, regardless of their cause.

These agencies include the Department of State; the Agency for International Development; the Central Intelligence Agency; the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Department of Health and Human Services, through its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.

Most recently, the President has created the new Office of Homeland Security, headed by former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, who is charged with helping the nation leverage and focus its strengths on combating many threats, including the use of bioweapons.

Countering the threat posed by infectious disease requires unprecedented cooperation and concerted action at all levels of government--local, state and national--but also on an international basis.

It requires an entirely new level of information sharing and coordination on a global basis across many fields of expertise and responsibility.

And it demands an unprecedented degree of public-private partnership.

The wide diversity of participants here today reflects both the scope of the concern and of the needed response. We have here members of the foreign policy community, the public health community, academia, scientists, medical personnel, representatives of non-governmental organizations, and the media.

The headlines about anthrax and the new urgency concerning bioterrorism must not, however, deflect the world’s attention from the lethal and growing threat to vast populations posed by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Just as the whole world is responding to the attacks of 9/11, the international community must also marshal its resources against these diseases. The longer-term danger must not be ignored.

Already, these killers have taken the lives of tens of millions. They can devastate communities; cripple economies; decimate countries; destabilize regions; and unchecked, perhaps engulf entire continents. Every day HIV/AIDS alone kills over 8,000 people, 22 million since 1980--with another 38 million already infected who will die within 7 years.

That is why President Bush has taken a leadership role in the world community, and is working closely with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to bring sustained and focused international efforts against the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other infectious diseases.

Secretary Powell has asked me to assure you that, while the global campaign against terrorism is a matter of the highest priority to the United States, the terrorists have not hijacked American foreign policy nor have they lessened our determination to fight the continuing battle against infectious disease. This Administration is just as strongly committed today to a comprehensive, intensive, and effective global response to HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria as it was before 9/11.

The President has put the full strength of his cabinet behind this effort, and he has named U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, and Secretary Powell to serve as co-chairs of a special task force to make sure that our domestic and international actions are comprehensive and well coordinated.

The President also has announced an initial pledge of $200 million to jump-start a new public/private partnership -- the global fund to combat HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. We want this seed money to help generate billions more from donors all over the world. And just this week in this building, at the U.S.-Africa Trade and Investment Forum, the President declared that he is ready to commit more resources to the global fund once it demonstrates success.

But, let me emphasize again a point I made earlier. Infectious disease is a global concern and it demands a global response. The nations of the world must act together. We must build a worldwide "network of networks" to focus on prevention and tracking of infectious disease and to increase the effectiveness of our responses.

We can stem the tide of these frightful scourges if we work in concert, and if we adopt an integrated approach -- an approach that emphasizes prevention, prevention, and prevention. But our approach must also include treatment of the sick and care for AIDS orphans, measures to stop mother-to-child transmission of the virus, affordable drugs, effective delivery systems, and training of medical professionals. And, of course, it must also include research into vaccines and a possible cure.

In conclusion, I want to assure you that the United States is committed to leading the global campaign against terrorism. We are equally determined to work at the forefront of the worldwide fight against HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.

The United States and the international community must not--and we will not--let terrorists or microbes destroy the immense promise that this century holds for humankind.

Now, what I have just read are principally remarks that were prepared for Secretary Powell.

But I want to take just a minute more to share with you in the Secretary’s own words his feelings on seeing the African AIDS epidemic at first hand.

This is what he said:

When I travel, whether here at home or abroad, I like to meet with young people, as I did when I visited Africa this spring. I talked to young Africans about their countries and about what their world could be like in twenty years time. I spoke to them about seizing the incredible opportunities of this age of growing political and economic freedom and technological advance. And those energetic, enterprising young men and women gave me much reason to hold high hopes for their countries. Yet, I have to tell you, it was sobering indeed to realize that many of the bright young people with whom I was meeting will not make it even to middle age. That is our challenge.

Thank you.  

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