Well I am so honored and personally delighted to be here, and I want to thank Rick and Kay Warren for bringing us together this week around World AIDS Day. And I want to thank their tremendous staff and the volunteers and everyone who helped make this happen. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share our commitment about dealing with the global scourge of HIV/AIDS.
I also want to recognize two first ladies: the first lady of Zambia and the first lady of Rwanda. I am delighted that they are here representing their countries and their people.
And first, [applause] let me first say how relieved Bill and I were to hear that Saddleback was spared from the recent wildfires – and how impressed and moved we were to hear about the love and support that you gave those who were not so fortunate.
It’s another example of the way in which this church is not measured by numbers. Yes, the numbers are big, they’re certainly impressive. But it’s measured by your impact. It’s measured by the meaning that you give to lives here within this complex and so far beyond its boundaries. And the commitment that you demonstrate both to our faith in God and to doing His work here on earth is exemplary and that is one of the many reasons that I wanted to be here today.
You know, Rick has helped so many people with his lessons for a 40-day spiritual journey. But he knows those 40 days are just the beginning. My own faith journey is approaching a half a century, and I know how far I still have to go.
But I have been blessed in my life, both starting in my family and in the church of my childhood, to be guided every step of the way. A mother, who taught Sunday school and made sure that my brothers and I were there the minute the church doors opened. A father, who kneeled by the side of his bed every night of his life to say his prayers. A minister of our youth fellowship, who took it as part of his mission to show the group of white, suburban, middle class kids that there was a bigger world outside. And a prayer group that formed for me shortly after I came to the White House – a group of extraordinary women, both Democrats and Republicans, whose love and support sustained me.
I’ve often been asked if I’m a praying person and I have always responded that I was fortunate enough to be raised to understand that the power and purpose of prayer, but, had I not been, probably one week in the White House would have turned me into one. [Laughter] It’s wonderful to know that the sustaining power of prayer is there for so many of us.
One of my favorite passages in Scripture is that famous line in James that faith without works is dead. But I have concluded that works without faith is just too hard. It cannot be sustained over one’s life or over the generations. And it’s important for us to recognize how here, in what you’re doing, faith and work come together. You understand that. Or as Rick might say: creed and deed! And what extraordinary important work your faith supports – fighting against spiritual emptiness, corrupt leadership, poverty, illiteracy, and diseases like AIDS around the world.
Twenty-five years ago, when men – mostly young gay men – began dying from a disease that had no name, we could not have, and certainly did not, talk about it in church. It would not have been proper. It would not have been polite. It would have been discomforting for so many of us.
But the disease itself was not polite, and ignoring it did not make it go away. It only made the problem worse, because the disease fed on ignorance and fear and, let’s be honest, on prejudice. We are taught to heal the sick. To love them as our own. But twenty-five years ago, too many died alone, ashamed to tell their families what had made them ill.
In the Gospel, we learn that one-third of Christ’s ministry was healing the sick. And if you read those moments, when Jesus is presented with someone who is ill, it becomes abundantly clear that Christ had a choice. He could have been too busy. He could have thought you know this is not the message of the day. I don’t need to do this; I’ve already done it in Capernaum so I don’t need to do it again. But he made the choice. He never asked why someone was sick. He just healed and ministered those in need.
That is what Saddleback has chosen too. Other churches, nonprofits, and governments have also chosen to heal, to help, to redeem. For many of us the Golden Rule calls on us to act.
And so we’ve come a long way. Not only can we talk about AIDS in church, but churches are leading the way. Thanks to leaders like Rick and Kay, Christians have embraced the sickest among us, and have fought the disease itself. We’ve had breakthroughs in treatment that allow those with this disease to live much longer, and we are hoping for breakthroughs in vaccines and other cures. But let us not grow complacent or too comfortable. Let us not feel that because we’re here at this conference or as a member of Saddleback or some other church represented today that we are doing our part, because we have such a long way to go.
Here in America, we still have an AIDS epidemic. HIV infection rates are rising among gay men again and among African Americans and Latinos. The disease takes a disproportionate toll on the poor and communities of color. And it is an outrage that HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for black women between the ages of 25 and 34 in the United States of America.
Around the world, AIDS remains a plague of Biblical proportions. In too many places, ignorance about AIDS prevails and the stigma remains strong. And where ignorance and prejudice live, the disease thrives.
When I walked through the World Vision village, I was told the story of Kambo – a young Kenyan boy who lost first his father and his mother to what is called the “big disease.” And for years his grandmother had told him he did not have it. But after the death of his mother, he began to sicken, finally was tested and found out he was positive. Even before the positive results came in, the boys he played soccer with began to shun him. It became increasingly uncomfortable to go to school. So the stigma is one of the real evils that has to be combated if we are to take on HIV/AIDS around the world.
We should take heart that the United Nations recently revised its estimate of the number of people infected with HIV downward from 40 million to 33 million. But please don’t take any comfort. There are still 6,800 people infected and 5,700 who die from AIDS every day. AIDS is still the number one cause of death in Africa, where 90 percent of the HIV positive children in the world live.
Don’t let anyone tell you that the time for alarm has passed. We can’t slow. We can’t rest. And we can’t quit.
I’ve seen the tragedy of AIDS firsthand. From a dear friend, who told me in the early 1980s – much I must confess to my surprise in those days – that he was gay. He had the unnamed disease, and he died shortly after. To the twelve year-old girl that I met in Northern Thailand at a shelter for former prostitutes.
She had been sold into prostitution at the age of eight by her family for a satellite television. She was put to work in Bangkok’s brothels. She contracted AIDS and was turned out and returned home to a family that would not take her in. She did find refuge in the shelter.
When I met her she was in a wheelchair, so weak she didn’t have the strength to talk.
As I knelt down beside her, I could see the skin stretched tightly across her cheekbones. I thought of my own daughter and of all the girls her age who speak with such excitement about their futures, and about how cruel an injustice it was that this child would never know hers.
A week after I returned to America, people running the shelter contacted me to tell me she had died. To this day, I think of that gentle face and those warm eyes and what might have been done to spare her the fate she met.
She may have died on the other side of the world, but AIDS is not just an African problem, it’s not just an Asian problem, and it’s not just an American problem. And it’s certainly not someone else’s problem. It’s a problem of our common humanity, and we are called to respond, with love, with mercy, and with urgency.
As President, I will wage the fight against AIDS with the passionate commitment it demands. I will ask for $50 billion over five years to combat HIV/AIDS, [applause] and I will ask for more money to tackle tuberculosis and malaria around the world as well.
I will build on the funding levels in PEPFAR and on the leadership that the President and Mrs. Bush have shown, to demonstrate that the fight against HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria is an American commitment that exemplifies what we can do if we seek bipartisan solutions to nonpartisan problems. If we start acting not as Republicans and Democrats but as Americans again.
This is also a great opportunity for partnership. There are many churches and faith based groups here in our country and increasingly in other parts of the world who are understanding the urgency of this mission. There are many foundations and not for profit organizations like the Gates Foundation or my husband’s work for the Clinton Foundation. They are supplementing what we are doing through the government, and they are doing what the government cannot do. And it is that partnership that is uniquely American.
When I was privileged to represent our country around the world, traveling to more than 82 countries, I was often struck by how so much of the rest of the world did not understand the voluntary sector in America. As Rick was saying, the private, the public, the parish – there was no sense that individuals would volunteer their time, give up their money to help meet a common need. But we are setting forth that example, as well, in the work that is now occurring.
By doing this, which is the right thing to do, we are also helping to improve America’s standing in the world. We are putting a different face on our country; we are reaching out in a common search for answers. And we will be able not only to build on that work, to save lives, to prevent the spread of this disease, but also to create a broader platform for the values and ideals that we hold dear.
In order to accomplish my goals as president I have laid out a very comprehensive HIV/AIDS agenda. First, my administration will invest in treatments and capacity building by improving health systems across Africa and doubling the number of people receiving anti-retroviral treatment with U.S. funding in five years. Everyone who is HIV positive must have access to these drugs.
I want particularly to target mother-to-child transmission. We know how to stop the spread of the virus from mother to child but we don’t have the resources and the system behind delivering the drugs that are necessary. I believe we should do much more to encourage voluntary testing, but in order to do that it must be accompanied by counseling and there has to be a public education and outreach effort to undermine and diminish the stigma. Some countries are beginning to do this and we should encourage them.
Secondly, I’ll invest heavily in prevention, teaching young men and women how to be responsible; how best to protect themselves. I visited Uganda ten years ago to highlight their A-B-C program, and it produced results. Abstinence, be faithful, use condoms if necessary. And this has to be a message that we do much more to communicate effectively throughout areas that are particularly vulnerable.
Third, I’ll continue to invest in research to develop an effective vaccine and eventually a cure. There will be setbacks, as we have recently seen, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to quit.
And finally, I’ll restart the battle against AIDS here in America.
But I know that neither money nor government alone will solve this problem. Corinthians tells us that the body is made up of many parts, and “though all its parts are many, they form one body.” Well we need, as though we were one body, to use every resource at our hands, our disposal.
Because as Kay and Rick have advocated, the fight against AIDS must be done hand-in-hand, building relationships with churches around the world and here at home. Because if we fail to engage churches in combating AIDS, we will fail to conquer AIDS.
As you have shown, there are six things churches can do: Care for those who are infected and their families. Encourage testing, even become testing centers. Unleash volunteers. Reduce the stigma by showing it’s not a sin to be sick. Champion healthy behavior. And be treatment coaches for those taking medication.
I would add that churches also must tend to the spiritual side of this crisis. Because AIDS is not just a medical emergency.
Who will comfort the orphan dying alone after losing both parents to AIDS? Who will heal the emptiness that leads thousands of girls to be trafficked for a satellite television or a few dollars into prostitution and modern-day slavery each year? Who will provide stability and hope in communities devastated by AIDS? Who will welcome the drug addict using dirty needles or the gay teenager seeking safety and guidance?
Just as in my own life I need both faith and work to be whole – healing the world will take both faith and work as well.
We are compelled to address AIDS because it’s the right thing to do. But we can also acknowledge it’s smart, as well. AIDS is turning back the clock on the development that we have seen in Africa and elsewhere. It is destabilizing countries and undermining economies. In some places, AIDS can be even more destructive than war. It is watering the weeds of volatility and despair, and we should be planting seeds of hope and progress.
And nothing will help America more to win hearts and minds around the world more than showing America’s true heart on problems like AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. In fact, we know our values are the source of our greatest strength.
As the PEACE Plan has recognized so clearly, however, we can’t address AIDS in isolation. AIDS is deeply intertwined with so many other crises, and if we are serious about beating this disease, we have to address them as well.
To end AIDS, we need to end malaria in Africa. Malaria is overwhelming the health infrastructures in the developing world, accounting for 40 percent of health spending in many countries – money we need to fight AIDS.
Malaria is a challenge to our conscience in its own right. It is appalling that more than a million people die every year from a bug bite. And nearly all of them are children. A child in Africa dies from malaria every 30 seconds.
We made a decision to eradicate malaria in North America and in Europe. And we can do the same in Africa and Asia. So I’ll set a goal of ending all deaths from malaria in Africa by the end of my second term. We can do this if we are committed together.
We also need to aggressively confront tuberculosis – a disease that takes the lives of so many AIDS victims before they should go. A disease that is mutating to become drug-resistant. That endangers all of us. It may start in Africa or in a prison in Russia or in some other far away place, but it endangers all of us because in a world without boundaries, people and viruses move freely.
To end AIDS, we also need to educate all the world’s children. Education not only reduces poverty and improves health, it’s a key form of prevention. It is what you might call a “social vaccine” against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
But today, 72 million young children – most of them girls – will not set foot in a school, and hundreds of millions will not go beyond primary school. In fact, there are more young children out of school in Africa, than there are children in school in America.
Every day we don’t act, we deny more children the childhoods they deserve. We deny future mothers the ability to read a story to their children or a warning on a medicine label. We deny what is at the heart of human dignity: the power to learn, to discover, to grow, to reach one’s God-given potential. So as President, I’ll work to pass and then sign my bipartisan Education for All Act to help provide a quality, basic education for every single child around the world.
And finally, to end AIDS, we need to stand up for women’s rights. AIDS takes a particularly harsh toll on women and girls – about 60 percent of people living with AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa are women. They are young girls who are taken in marriage or in rape. They are women who are abused and mistreated; who have no say in their own lives, who work from sun up to sun down; who never believed they have any way to speak up or be heard. Their societies and their country don’t recognize their rights to health care or education. They don’t participate in the economy in a formal way, although their work keeps people alive and thriving.
I remember once driving through Africa on a bus with a group of distinguished experts and in field after field and marketplace after marketplace we saw women working, women working hard, carrying firewood, carrying water, selling their products in the villages. And the economist said, “Well, it’s too bad that all of their work doesn’t matter in the formal economy.” And I said, well, if they stopped all of their work, the formal economy would collapse. And it is time we pay tribute and respect to the hard work of such women.
And it is long past time that we do everything we can to stand up for the proposition that women’s rights are human rights. As I saw so starkly at that shelter in Thailand, girls denied their human rights are girls at risk of AIDS. And even in our own country today, women are now the face of AIDS.
In 1995, I went to Beijing on behalf of our country for the United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women. I said what most of us believe here in America, that women’s rights are human rights, but it was considered a radical statement.
I remember being on the Voice of America shortly after I came back. It was a call in radio show that was beamed throughout the world and a caller from Iran called and he asked me вЂWell, what did I mean by saying that women’s rights were human rights?вЂќ And I said, I want you to stop for a minute, maybe close your eyes and think about all the rights you have as a man. The right to work, the right to pursue an education, the right to start a business, the right to be active in your country’s affairs. Those are the rights I’m talking about. The rights that are the real core of who we are as human beings.
It’s important we continue to work to empower women to take responsibility for themselves and their futures with initiatives on everything from maternal health to micro-credit and entrepreneurship. I’ll continue the work I started as First Lady and now as a Senator to end the buying and selling of girls and women into modern-day slavery.
Now, I know this won’t be easy. But I also know the power of America at our best, and I know the power of faith and of people of faith, when we heed Isaiah’s call to lift up our voices like trumpets.
The faith community lifted up its voice against slavery and helped lead America to end that evil. The faith community lifted its voice against discrimination here in America and against apartheid in South Africa and helped end both. The faith community lifted its voice for debt relief for the world’s poorest countries, and gave many countries a fresh start in the jubilee year.
Today the faith community is speaking out against genocide in Darfur. Taking on global warming and we can see from this room the awesome power to address the AIDS pandemic. Together I believe, we can write the next chapter in this history. It is a proud and grace-filled history.
Thank you, thank you to Saddleback. Thanks to all of you for the work you are doing and for living your faith in such a visible way. And I appreciate the opportunity to add my voice to yours. Thank you all very much and God speed.