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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > Former Secretaries of State > Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell > Speeches and Remarks > 2003 > November

Interview on BBC-TV with Owen Bennett Jones

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
November 6, 2003

2003/1173

MR. JONES: Now, then, you are spending all of it -- ideally you spend $15 billion on HIV/AIDS. This is a significant amount of money. Why have you committed that much money?

SECRETARY POWELL: Because the need was so great. Shortly after we came into office, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, my cabinet colleague, Tommy Thompson, and I took a look at HIV/AIDS. He saw it from a health standpoint, I saw it from a foreign policy standpoint, and we got in touch with each other and said we've got to do something about this, and let's form a cabinet group, you and I chairing it.

And we took it to the President, and the President recognized the seriousness of the problem, and said let's go. So the first thing we did was help Kofi Annan get going the Global Health Fund, and after that was up and running -- and we are the major contributor to it, 600 million so far, but it will be $1.6 billion as we grow our program -- the President then realized after about a year that that was significant but it wasn't enough. We needed to do much more. And as we say in the United States, he wanted to make a deep pass, not just a little bit of progress, but a lot of progress.

And so he committed the nation to a $15 billion program. Some of it is existing programs that we will accelerate, but $10 billion of it is new money and $1 billion of it is to the Global Health Fund. That'll be in the spring.

MR. JONES: But will it actually be $15 billion? Because there are reports coming from Congress, and now the Administration, that 2004 it will actually only be $2.1 billion.

SECRETARY POWELL: But that's always it is a start of a program. It'll be 2 -- roughly 2 billion in the first year, but we expect that every year after that we will go for the 3 billion, and we should be able to get the $3 billion until it gets up to the $15 billion. Congress just needed a little more time to reflect on this. But I have found in my testimony with our Congress that there is solid support for this program; it's just a matter of how to ramp it up.

MR. JONES: You're committed to spending every cent of that $15 billion? You can tell us that will all be spent?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, we expect Congress to appropriate it and we will spend it because there is a desperate need out there for it.

MR. JONES: You've said this is a national security issue.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, it is.

MR. JONES: Why is that?

SECRETARY POWELL: Because what I have seen as I have traveled around the world to Asia, but especially to Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, is that the HIV/AIDS virus, the disease kills an individual; and then it kills a number of individuals, then it kills the family, and then it kills a village, and then it kills the children, and then it kills the middle-aged people who are the sexually active ones; and it leaves families totally torn apart, villages torn apart, and, in due course, countries torn apart.

When you have a country, as we do have in Africa, some countries with an infection rate that is over 30 percent and the average life expectancy is dropping by a decade every few years, this is more than a health crisis; this is a national security crisis, this is a crisis of whether or not these countries can remain viable.

When you see grandparents, who were hoping that their grandchildren would take care of them, find themselves taking care of their grandchildren, who are ill and whose parents are gone, and the teachers are gone and the nurses are gone, all infected by HIV/AIDS, then you have more than a health problem; you have a national security problem, a foreign policy problem.

MR. JONES: One-third of the money you've committed is going to abstinence programs or organizations that promote abstinence. That's just not realistic.

SECRETARY POWELL: Why not? Abstinence works. We know it works. If you are not actively transmitting the disease through sexual contact, then the disease will not be transmitted, and it is a perfectly sensible strategy to take to young people.

Now, I know young people, sooner or later, will wish to have sex. It's a given. So we also invest a lot of money into education as to how to have safe sex and we spend a lot of money on condoms, distributing condoms.

So it has to be a comprehensive approach. It can't just be do this and not that. Abstinence is a good thing to teach young people before they're ready for the responsibilities of sexual activity. And so we should have abstinence programs, we should have education programs, we should have safe sex programs, we should have condoms for those who are going to be sexually active and need to protect themselves, we should have treatment programs, we should search for a cure.

MR. JONES: Yeah, I see what you're saying.

SECRETARY POWELL: It is all of that. It's --

MR. JONES: It's --

SECRETARY POWELL: Another reason. I've seen it work in the United States. My wife and I have been very active in abstinence programs here in Washington, D.C., by taking young girls, principally, the ones who, frankly, are at the greatest risk, young girls, and saying to them, "You are not ready for this, so let's take your energy and any hopes and dreams you have and convert that into other healthy activities -- dance, group activities, other things. You are not ready for what is facing you out there." And we've got to armor them to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases, against HIV/AIDS and against teenage pregnancy. And guess what? It works.

MR. JONES: Do you consider HIV/AIDS to be a treatable illness now?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, it is treatable with anti-retroviral drugs and with especially using anti-retroviral drugs in mother-to-child transmission. So it can be -- the chain can be interrupted through treatment, and people who are stricken with the virus can be treated. We are doing everything we can to drive the cost of treatment down and we are also, of course, investing a lot of money through our National Institutes of Health and other research activities to find a cure.

MR. JONES: So, if it is treatable, in the first round, as it becomes a chronic, treatable illness, it is down to money, isn't it, as to how many people you can get the drugs to?

SECRETARY POWELL: That's right. It takes a great deal of money, and we hope other nations will try to be as generous as the United States is trying to be.

Will everybody get access to the drugs? I would certainly hope so. That should be our goal, our objective. But it is going to be a difficult thing to do, not only from a standpoint of paying for all the drugs, but finding ways to safely distribute them. And with some of the drugs that are now coming into the market and onto the table, so to speak, it is easier to deliver them, administer them. They don't really require the same kind of protection, care or transport. So we've got to get more durable drugs out there that can go to the furthest villages that are in need of these drugs.

MR. JONES: Looking at Western countries in particular, you've offered your $15 billion and you say you're sticking to it. Is there any European or developed country that you think is making an adequate matching contribution?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know of any that has made the kind of contribution we have made. I wouldn't expect a European country to say $15 billion.

MR. JONES: No, but an adequate contribution relatively?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, yes, I just don't know what each one of them is doing in enough detail to go through Europe and tell you who's doing well and who's not doing so well.

The answer I would give is that I hope that every European country and every other country on Earth that has the capacity to give will look at this and give as much as they possibly can, because it is a problem that is affecting the whole world. You cannot hide from this problem. You cannot think that it is a problem for Sub-Saharan Africa or the subcontinent or for China or anywhere else but here. It is a problem for wherever you are.

The United States was one of the first nations to go through this in the '70s and '80s and we learned a great deal about the disease and how to go about treating it and how to go about preventing it and the kinds of programs that are necessary.

MR. JONES: Do you consider the epidemic is under control in the United States?

SECRETARY POWELL: The infection rate has gone down over the years. There has been a slight rise again, which is of concern to us, and it comes from unsafe practices and not doing a good enough job with our young people to teach them how to protect themselves.

MR. JONES: Politics is the art of the possible, and one has to be realistic, but when you look at the sums involved for, say, 2004: 2 billion, 2.1 billion for HIV/AIDS, 67 billion for Afghanistan and Iraq security. Is that right?

SECRETARY POWELL: It is what we decided to do. There are many needs that we have. There are many responsibilities that we have around the world. But you say that in a way that is slightly critical. You tell me any other nation on the face of the Earth that has made this kind of a commitment and this kind of a contribution to deal with a worldwide health and social and national security and foreign affairs challenge in such an outgoing and generous way.

We are proud of the fact that this President, President George Bush, not only contributed to the Global Health Fund but realized that wasn't enough, I've got to do more. And we are doing a lot more.

And for those who say, "Well, you ought to do more, well, you better look at what you're doing before you start pointing fingers at us. Would I like it to be more? Sure. Would the President like it to be more? Yes. But politics is the art of the possible. This was possible. This is something we are going to do, and millions of people are going to benefit because President Bush was willing to take this to the American Congress.

You know, the American people could have said, "Well, why? Why should we do this? Why should we care about Sub-Saharan Africa? Why should we care about the subcontinent and other places in the world?" The answer is because we are a caring nation. We are all -- we are all citizens of this world of ours. We have to take care of our fellow citizens.

MR. JONES: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

SECRETARY POWELL: You're welcome.


Released on November 17, 2003

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