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President Bill Clinton; Sandra Thurman, Director, Office of National AIDS Policy -- April 7, 1997
CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Thank you. Please be seated. Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
I'd like to join the vice president in thanking Eric Goosby for his work as the acting director of the office. And thank you very much, Patsy Fleming for the fine job that you've done. We missed you.
Thank you, Scott Hitt, and all the members of the council for the good work that you have been doing, and thank you especially for the meeting we had together not so very long ago and the candor and passion of your recommendations.
America has not beaten AIDS yet, but we are getting closer and we remain committed to the fight, and to winning it. More than ever, we need a strong advocate for people with AIDS. And of course, that's why we're here today.
Let me begin by reiterating our goal. We want to find a vaccine against the AIDS virus, and a cure for those who have HIV infection.
They have eluded researchers so far, but we are committed. The work goes on, and it will go on until we are successful. Until that day comes, when HIV and AIDS no longer threaten our people, we must continue to do all we can -- to hit the epidemic hard with a coordinated effort of research, treatment and prevention.
When I took office, I established the Office of National AIDS Policy because America had been turning its head away from the problem. Many Americans had not come to grips with HIV and AIDS and their consequences. Now we're learning.
AIDS strikes in the best of families, and from this disease, no community has immunity. Gay or straight, black or white, male or female, old or young, anyone can get AIDS, and if we're going to win this fight, we must begin with the acceptance of that fact.
It was clear four years ago as it is now that it is only with an aggressive campaign against AIDS that we will win the battle. That is what we have begun.
In the first four years, we increased overall spending by about 60 percent. In FY 1997 alone, $167 million will go to state AIDS drug assistance programs which provide access to medication including protease inhibitors for low-income individuals with HIV who don't have prescription drug coverage.
We speeded the time needed to approve drugs to treat AIDS, leading to the approval of eight new AIDS drugs, and 19 for AIDS- related conditions. This has allowed many people simply to go on with their lives, to live with this disease not worry-free, but not in despair either.
We should all take heart that, for the first time, there has been a marked decrease in deaths among people with AIDS. With new treatment therapies, we hope to see even greater life expectancy, and with education and prevention, the number of estimated new HIV infections has slowed dramatically.
In our war against AIDS, the Office of National AIDS Policy plays an important role. The office charged with coordinating all our federal policy and programs regarding AIDS.
It also builds our partnerships with other levels of government and with private sector communities and organizations. Our office is charged with keeping us on track in treatment and in education, and to keep our focus on research for ways to prevent and cure this disease.
An AIDS vaccine could save millions of lives around the world, and we must help those who are already infected. Make no mistake -- a cure has been and always will be our very first priority.
The director of this office must be an individual with a clear understanding of AIDS as a disease and as a social issue in America; someone who knows the scientific front as well as the human center of AIDS; someone who knows how to fight to cut through red tape to get the job done.
I have found that person in the woman I nominate today to fill this office, Sandy Thurman. She is no stranger to those who know this issue. She's a member of our advisory council on HIV and AIDS. She's worked on the frontlines in the AIDS epidemic for more than a decade.
She's been an advocate and a catalyst at the state, local and national levels. She transformed AID Atlanta, the oldest and largest AIDS service organization in the South into one of the most successful projects of its kind anywhere in the country.
As executive director from 1988 to 1993, she tripled its size, beefed up its budget and made it a direct service agency with a staff of 90 workers and 1,000 volunteers.
Her experience in running a large, community-based organization makes her especially well-equipped to build the partnerships we need throughout our country, where beating the AIDS epidemic will take this kind of teamwork everywhere.
I am please that she's agreed to serve as the director of the Office of National AIDS policy. I've worked with her and I can attest she tells it like it is, she speaks the truth unvarnished, she won't hold back in this office.
She is passionate. She is committed. She is difficult to say no to.
And I have already assured her that she will have the support and the resources she will need, including my personal support to succeed in this all-important task. My door is open to her, and now I'd like for us to all hear what she has to say -- Sandy Thurman.
THURMAN: Thank you very much. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President. Your being here together is a wonderful demonstration of your support for me and the administration's commitment to ending the AIDS crisis.
I'm delighted to be joined today by my wonderful colleagues from the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, and so many very special friends with whom I've worked the last 13 years in trying to end this epidemic.
Mr. President, I certainly share your commitment to a cure, and not that extraordinary recent advances in medical treatments have given us a reason for real new hope to ending this plague. But as well all know, this is a crisis of monumental proportions. And it will take -- it must be addressed and will take all of our vigor and energy that we can muster to make progress.
The epidemic is not over, and we must not and will not rest until HIV is eradicated.
Today, I would like to ask all of those living with HIV and with AIDS, the community of caregivers and care providers, AIDS activists like you all, local and national AIDS organizations, and all of the federal agencies to join with the president, the vice president, and with me in an even stronger partnership. Only by working together will we have a chance to successfully meet the challenges that this very complicated epidemic presents to us.
The president has given me his personal commitment to leadership in the fight against AIDS, and in turn, I offered the community to the efforts to develop vaccines, to find a cure, to stop the transmission of HIV, and to provide appropriate services and care to people who are already infected.
We will work to improve the level of services in housing and a level of services in housing for those most in need in our society while assessing the implications of changes in social programs like welfare and Medicaid.
We will strive to support culturally-appropriate services and prevention messages to communities of color, to women and to young gay men, where this epidemic is moving the fastest. We will work to counteract the devastating effects that homophobia and that racism continue to have on this epidemic.
But as you all know, this is not work that is done in a vacuum by me or by those in Washington here. It is work done by the thousands of people that are dedicated and selfless in communities across the country who struggle day by day to make a difference in this epidemic.
Our job here is to make certain that they have the tools to do their good work.
I am heartened that, in that same spirit, the president has made a substantial effort to strengthen the Office of National AIDS Policy. We will be working to build an enhanced staff with a broad range of skills. And we will enlist those who best understand medical and treatment issues, prevention and education, social programs, discrimination and housing to share their expertise, and I might add -- that would be all of you.
We have the highest level of access to the administration. I think that's evidenced here today. This is another reflection of the president's and the vice president's commitment to our nation's war on HIV and AIDS.
This is not an epidemic of a few. This is an epidemic of us all. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have already lost their lives to AIDS. It has stolen some of our brightest and most talented friends and loved ones in the prime of their lives.
And beyond our borders, millions of people struggle against the odds to live long enough to reap the benefits of a cure.
We are deeply aware of the responsibility that this administration has to all Americans who are living with HIV and AIDS, and to those all around the world who turn to us for leadership and for hope.
That is an awesome responsibility, one which will demand that each of us work together in partnership to end this epidemic.
I look forward to that partnership, and appreciate this opportunity to offer whatever help I can to the president, to the nation, and to all of you who are working so valiantly on the front lines of this epidemic.
Thank you very much.
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