Joe Biden

Remarks on World AIDS Day

December 01, 2021

The President. Thank you. Please, sit down. Mom, come on up here a minute. Come on. [Laughter]

[At this point, Marguerite Wheeler-Lara, mother of TruEvolution Founder and Chief Executive Officer Gabriel Maldonado, joined the President at the podium. Mr. Maldonado had introduced the President.]

I want you to meet Gabe's mom, who I still believe is more like his sister—[laughter]—than his mom. She is the inspiration. She is the reason why this young man has done such incredible things. And it's a simple lesson. My mother always told me: Listen to your mom. [Laughter]

Ms. Wheeler-Lara. Yes.

The President. Thank you. Thank you. You deserve a great deal of praise. Thank you.

Ms. Wheeler-Lara. Thank you so much. Thank you.

The President. Thank you.

[Ms. Wheeler-Lara returned to her seat.]

And one other thing before I begin my formal remarks. I look out in the audience and I see so many people who've been in this battle for so long. But the one person who I know from personal experience—having been here for more than 40 years—who has been a champion when it was viewed as political suicide to be a champion was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Nancy, stand up. Stand up. [Applause]

There was many others behind her as well. But, Nancy—not a joke—you were the one who started that fight in a way that you took it on with such passion. And it wasn't—it was not—it was viewed as a political death sentence to take this issue on at the time. But you did it. You fundamentally changed the way we looked at this. You even got George Bush to lead on this too. [Laughter]

No, but all kidding aside, you—I just want to personally, in front of all these people and all the world, thank you for your incredible work.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm also joined by the Second Gentleman. He is a hell of a lawyer. [Laughter] And I thank him for being here. And, Mr. Secretary, thank you for your leadership of HHS.

I—and I want to thank Gabe for sharing his story, because—you know, you committed your life to this work, Gabe. I don't know whether you had that plan when you began it, but it's amazing what you've done. It's amazing what one person can do. It's an honor to meet with you both and to learn more about the work you're doing together to support your community.

Folks, we're also joined today by many who have been part of this effort for decades, including Dr. Fauci, who is—I—he's all things to—[applause]. Doc, you're the best. And you never walk away from an issue or a problem. Thank you.

And to all of you who have contributed so much to this mission of advocating for better prevention services for those at risk of getting HIV and improved care services; and living with HIV, breaking down the stigma, and from—and the disinformation that still exists around HIV/AIDS, I want to thank you. Thank you for your voices and for putting your hearts into your work. Because that's what you do. You put your hearts into the work, and people can tell.

It's because of all of you and the dedication of scientists and activists around the world that we've been able to dramatically reduce new HIV transmissions and make individuals with HIV today lead long and healthy lives.

And you know, it's because of the persistence and the resilience of the HIV community that we've changed so much about the way we approach health care, research, and equitable access to services, even the relationship between patients and health care providers. You know, and it's because of you—and it's not hyperbole to suggest it—that we are within a striking distance of eliminating HIV transmission. Within striking distance.

And I think everybody but Nancy couldn't have imagined this—us being there 40 years ago. But the fact is that when CDC reported the first case that—what we now know as AIDS. It's something that we couldn't fully imagine even 20 years ago before the landmark investments that the United States made through PEPFAR and—President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

But you made it possible. You made it possible. And I want to take this moment on this historic anniversary to acknowledge the incredible passion and the work that got us here. Because I know that so many of you—for so many of you, this is personal.

Today we once more raise a two-story-tall red ribbon on the North Portico of the White House to remember how far we've come, the work we have left to finish, and so we never forget the price—the price—that's paid all along the way.

And so many of you know and have relations with people who have—whether they're family members or friends that you've watched them, in the past, whither way. In the past four decades, as has been mentioned, an estimated 36 million people—36 million people—including more than 700,000 here in the United States, have died of AIDS-related illnesses. Think about that. That many people, more than almost all the modern wars combined—all the wars combined.

Here at home, we saw entire communities devastated by this disease, particularly among the LGBTQ+ individuals and members of racial and ethnic minority groups that Gabe has already spoken to. And a generation that endured the brunt of this epidemic—losing friends, loved ones, family members, partners—instead of being seen and being recognized.

And I can recall—if you excuse the point of personal privilege—being, I think, in this very room when a Senator who—he's deceased now, so I don't want to mention his name because he can't defend himself—but standing up and saying, along with another guy named Jerry Falwell, this is "God's punishment." I'm paraphrasing it. "God's punishment. Finally."

Think how much has changed. I mean, back in those days, the willingness of other Members of the Senate and the House to stand up and take him on was—Nancy was there. Many of you were there. But it wasn't a universal thing. Wasn't a universal thing. But you all demanded—demanded to be treated with dignity and with equity. Those voices, those stories are invaluable.

As we recommit ourselves to finishing the fight—that we are going to make these individuals living with AIDS and are helping them drive and inform our efforts at every step of the way, because we're going to finish this fight.

And so, when my administration came to office, not only—not only did we reestablish the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, which—it's hard to believe. [Applause] I don't deserve any credit. That was the easiest possible thing to do. [Laughter] No, I really mean it. Think about it. Think about it. That it gets a round of applause in the year 2021 when we say that. I mean, it should have never, ever—well, I don't want to get into that. But anyway—[laughter].

And I've asked Harold Phillips to lead our efforts. Harold—[applause]—stand up. Harold, I think they know you. [Laughter] Harold has dedicated—he has decades of experience working with—to end AIDS, the HIV epidemic. And I want to thank him for his leadership and willingness to join the administration, and releasing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy for 2022 to 2025. That's what he's doing.

It's a roadmap for how we're going to put our foot on the gas and accelerate our efforts to end the HIV epidemic in the United States by the year 2030. That's the goal. And it centers on the kind of innovative, community solutions—community-driven solutions that we know will work.

It's a plan to make sure that the latest—the latest advances in HIV prevention, diagnosis, and treatment are available to everyone, regardless of their age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or other factors. It shouldn't matter where you live in the country or how much money you make or how you respond or how we—we have to respond across the board to the HIV epidemic everywhere and support all people living with HIV.

And critically, this strategy takes on a racial and gender disparities in our health system that for much too long have affected HIV outcomes in our country to ensure that our national response is a truly equitable response.

So we're going to take aggressive action and back it up. We've asked Congress for $670 million—an historic budget request—for the "Ending the HIV Epidemic in the United States" initiative. And I'm confident we're going to get that done. Right, team? [Applause]

We've got some great congressional champions for this work here today, starting with a woman who, as I said—I've already mentioned, as she—a leader on the issue from the moment she set foot in Congress, starting with Nancy.

But also Representative Barbara Lee. Barbara Lee—[applause]—please. Maxine Waters. I learned a long time ago, when Maxine says, "I have an idea," just say, "Yes". [Laughter] Just say, "Yes." And Sean Patrick Maloney. Sean. [Applause] Jenniffer—David Cicilline. David. [Applause] And Jenniffer González-Colón. [Applause]

Thanks for all you're doing. I really—I was going to say—not for your support—this is sui generis with all of you. You're just incredibly committed to this. And it's an issue that has a long history of bipartisan support, so I'm looking forward to working across the aisle, God willing.

I want make sure that everyone in the United States knows their HIV status, that everyone with HIV receives high-quality care and treatment that they deserve, and that we end the harmful stigma around HIV and AIDS. In particular, there is still a large number of States with HIV—that have HIV criminalization laws that do not reflect an accurate understanding of HIV.

For example, HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva. There are still laws on the books that criminalize spitting by people with HIV. I mean, this is 2021, the United States of America.

But we have to follow science, and that means eliminating the laws that perpetuate discrimination, exacerbate disparities, discourage HIV testing, and take us further away from our goal. We can do this.

And as we accelerate our efforts at home, we're not going to let up on the efforts to fight HIV/AIDS globally. Leading reauthorization of PEPFAR in 2008 was among the highlights of my time as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. And at the time—[applause]—and by the way, I was not one of the great leaders in this. I always supported the effort, but it wasn't—it was because I was chairman of the committee.

And believe it or not, there was a Republican President—and I'm not being a wiseguy when I say this—who pushed for PEPFAR. There is an undeniable proof of the good that American leadership and innovation can achieve in the world when we commit to it. We have a moral obligation to do that and continue.

Since President Bush launched PEPFAR in 2003, we've saved more than 21 million lives. We've prevented millions of HIV infections. And we've helped at least 20 countries bring their HIV epidemics under control or reach their U.N. AIDS 90-90-90 treatment targets. That means 90 percent of the people living with HIV in a country will know their HIV status, 90 percent of HIV-positive individuals are able to access treatment, and 90 percent of those receiving treatment for HIV will have suppressed viral loads.

That's within our power. We're doing that. And though PEPFAR—through PEPFAR, the United States will support nearly 19 million men, women, and children with lifesaving HIV treatment. It's an incredible, incredible achievement.

Those are not the only lives saved though. They are—there are communities that are strengthened by the talents and contributions of HIV-positive individuals who are here today leading productive lives and leading the community because of what you've all done.

And as we have faced COVID-19 pandemic, we've also reaped additional benefits from our decades-long investment in strengthening health systems around the world through PEPFAR. Working through the CDC and USAID, PEPFAR supports more than 70,000 case—care facilities, 3,000 laboratories, and nearly 300,000 health care workers across 55 countries, all of which have been vital in supporting the global fight against COVID-19. By strengthening countries' abilities to fight AIDS, we've also improved our collective ability to fight other diseases.

And I want to thank and recognize a guy that I can't believe all he has done: Dr. John—John Nkengasong. Nkengasong. I apologize, Doc. And, Doc—Doc Nkengasong, stand up. [Applause] And, Doc—Doc—Dr. Nkengasong, you can call me "Joe Bidden." [Laughter]

But you're helping lead the important work of Omicron variant in this current role as Director of Africa's CDC and who is my nominee for Ambassador at Large to oversee PEPFAR and our global efforts to combat HIV.

I understand you're joined by Peter Sands. Peter, stand up, will you? The Executive Director of the Global Fund. This year marks 20 years of the Global Fund, and the United States is proud to be both a founding member of the Fund and the largest contributor. And the United States is looking forward to hosting the Global Fund's Seventh Replenishment Conference next year here. And so, thank you.

We still have a difficult road ahead of us—we can't kid ourselves—particularly, addressing the disparities we see both domestically and globally, including the impact of high transmission rates among adolescent girls and young women. And today, as we look back on the past 40 years, where there has been so much pain and suffering, it's a testament to all—all the hard work represented in this room and around the world that we are gathered today with hope in our hearts and for the future that's within our grasp.

We can do this. We can do this. We can eliminate HIV transmission. We can get the epidemic under control here in the United States and in countries around the world. We have the scientific understanding, we have the treatments, and we have the tools we need.

We're going to engage with people with live—with lived experience with HIV and ensure that our efforts are appropriate and effective and centered around the needs of the HIV community. Not us dictating; centered around the needs of the community.

And, folks, together, we're going to save lives. I can imagine no higher calling to which we could be dedicated than our commitment to save lives. And this is the one area where we can get a lot more done quickly.

So I want to thank you all again. I'm honored to be with you today. And this is one heck of a group of people who have hearts that are as big as their heads, and thank God—[laughter]—thank God, have in those beautiful skulls so much knowledge and capacity. [Laughter]

So thank you, thank you, thank you. Anyway, thanks.

NOTE: The President spoke at 3:16 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to former President George W. Bush; Douglass C. Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala D. Harris; National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci; Director of the White House Office of National Aids Policy Harold Phillips; and Peter A. Sands, Director, Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on World AIDS Day Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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