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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator > Press Room > Remarks and Presentations > 2005

Opening Remarks, Ministerial Conference

Ambassador Randall Tobias, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator
Remarks to Ministerial Conference, Pan American Health Organization
Washington, DC
September 26, 2005

Secretary Leavitt, thank you very much.  Distinguished Ministers and guests, I would like to take just a few minutes to touch on the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which affects every nation in the Americas.

While many of our nations have national prevalence rates that seem low, those numbers can mask serious local epidemics.  Over 3 million people in the Western Hemisphere are living with HIV/AIDS, including approximately 340,000 who became infected last year.  Some people may have the impression that HIV/AIDS is not a major problem in the Americas, but they are simply – and dangerously -- wrong. 

In response to the global HIV/AIDS emergency, President Bush established his Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, also known as PEPFAR. The United States is investing $15 billion over five years, making this the largest international health program directed at a single disease that any government has ever undertaken. The Emergency Plan is providing support in 123 nations worldwide.

In the Western Hemisphere, the Emergency Plan is at work through a variety of bilateral, regional, and multilateral HIV/AIDS initiatives.  The U.S. investment in our bilateral and regional programs in Latin America and the Caribbean has risen to over $100 million in the current fiscal year.

In addition, the Emergency Plan also works through the Global Fund, to which the U.S. is the largest donor nation. The Global Fund has approved grants that total almost $189 million over two years to nineteen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, with the people of the United States providing about one-third of the money for those grants.

Because the Global Fund is a financing mechanism rather than an implementing organization, technical assistance with implementation is not part of its mandate.  Our Emergency Plan teams on the ground do have that capability – along with a long track record of working with governmental and civil society partners.  We are therefore providing resources to our bilateral partners to enable them to provide the technical assistance needed by Global Fund grantees. 

We recognize that Global Fund financing is the key to many of your nations’ efforts to bring national HIV/AIDS responses to scale.  The United States is proud to partner with you not only through the resources we provide to the Fund, but also through this technical support to make the money work on the ground.

Working in partnership, we have achieved some important successes already. At the Special Summit of the Americas in January 2004, leaders committed to supporting antiretroviral treatment for at least 600,000 people in the hemisphere by the end of 2005. Together, we have not only reached that goal, but surpassed it, with over 640,000 currently on treatment.

Yet there remains much to do. While resources are essential, another indispensable element is sometimes overlooked:  leadership in overcoming the barriers to a comprehensive response.

Stigma is one of those barriers, in nearly every nation.  The need for leaders to stand with people living with HIV/AIDS against stigma is enormous, because it undermines all elements of our response. For example, stigma keeps people from seeking HIV counseling and testing. Without learning their status, they cannot begin lifesaving treatment or take the right steps to avoid becoming infected or infecting others. 

An example of leadership in this area is an organization of HIV-positive people known as “POZ” that is an Emergency Plan partner in Haiti.  People from POZ make presentations to the local citizenry explaining the facts about HIV, and what antiretroviral treatment can mean.  They’re breaking down the barriers of stigma that keep people from accessing life-saving treatment. That’s leadership.

There is also a great need for leadership to empower women, who too often lack the power to protect themselves.  The U.S. is partnering with programs in many nations to help women live lives free from violence, sexual coercion, and double standards of behavior for men that subject women to elevated risk.  Leadership in this area is critical if we are to reduce the number of new infections.

For Ministers of Health, there is an opportunity for leadership in ensuring that responses are truly multisectoral, involving not only the Ministry of Health, but all the other governmental sectors that have contributions to make.  I know from my own experience as the Coordinator of the U.S. interagency effort that this is challenging, but thanks to the leadership of people like Secretary Leavitt, we are making it work, and I believe that it is equally essential on the ground.

I mentioned a moment ago that most American nations still have low nationwide prevalence rates.  That means that we have the opportunity to intervene before we face generalized epidemics of the type found in sub-Saharan Africa – offering a life free of HIV/AIDS to millions. 

Please know that the United States will continue to be your partner in this fight.

Thank you very much.

Released on October 11, 2005

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