Thank you very much. Good morning, good afternoon, good evening to everyone who’s joined us. It’s been a real privilege to be able to work closely with the new global health bureau and Dr. John and the whole team.

And I will say I’ve been really privileged and honored to have been working on global health issues for actually a couple of decades now, and it’s not something that I would have predicted or expected.

Thank you for that gracious introduction. I appreciate that. One thing you mentioned was my work in the Senate for the Senate Majority Leader, who at the time was Senator Reid from Nevada – an office where I worked for six years. And one of the first CODELs that we ever took, we went through the Middle East; we went to Ukraine, and we ended at the NATO headquarters [with] General Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO at the time.

I’m telling you this story because we thought we were going in for a briefing about Russian military assets and about nuclear weapons and about challenges in the region.

And General Jones came out and he gave us all a map of Africa, and he said, “I’m showing you this because this is where there are pockets of instability, disease incidents… This is where we have poverty. This is where we have great instability, and I want you to think about what we can do on the foreign assistance side – and on how to support people from a health perspective and combating HIV.”

It was the most amazing briefing, to have this four-star military general come and talk to us about what were seen at the time as “social issues” or “softer issues.” We were blown away by that briefing.

So you fast-forward maybe two months down the road – and this is, again, as a Senate staffer. Senator Reid comes in to talk to me one morning, and he said, “You know, there’s this guy Bono who wants to come see me. I don’t have time to meet with Bono. You have to do it.”

And of course, I was like, well, if I have to, Senator. I will take that meeting.

Literally two hours later, there are Bono and the Edge at my desk in the Capitol, and I thought this really can’t be happening. And we spent a lot of time listening to him and his commitment to Africa, and just when he was already well into his efforts on global health work and on HIV/AIDS in particular… And I mentioned to him that we just got this briefing at NATO headquarters [that] General Jones gave us on Africa, and it was fascinating.

So, if I can take credit for one thing, it was introducing General Jones to Bono. About a month later, they met in the Capitol building and he did the exact same briefing. And those two ended up becoming good friends and partners, and they worked on this nexus between health and national security, poverty alleviation and national security. And it really worked for members of Congress who were skeptical, as were pockets of the American population.

That was part of my start, which had these towering figures involved. Now, Bono is not here today. Sorry it’s just me. But we do have our own rock star in Dr. John. Just so grateful for your leadership and everything you do.

As was said in the introduction, among the features that make HIV/AIDS unique is that it’s not some ancient illness that’s afflicted human beings over the different generations and chapters of the past.

This is an epidemic that has emerged, evolved, and grown within most of our lifetimes.

And it’s a scourge that we’ve seen, witnessed, countered, felt, experienced within our neighborhoods and workplaces and schools, and maybe even our own families.

It is a challenge born in our time – and, we hope and we expect, solved under our watch as well.

It was just over 40 years ago that we learned of the first reported AIDS case in the United States.

And it was just 35 years ago that we marked the first World AIDS Day, with a mission to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS; to expand treatment; to search for a cure; to move us away from those dark days when a diagnosis felt like a death sentence.

And it was just 20 years ago that Congress established PEPFAR, which was a stunning achievement that represents the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in history.

I was a Senate staffer then, but my colleague that ran the Foreign Relations Committee as Staff Director was a guy named Tony Blinken. And we had front-row seats for the birth of this historic accomplishment.

And I know how committed he was then and how committed he is now to this mission.

So today, in an age of persistent partisanship and deepening divides, it’s important to remember what has made PEPFAR’s passage and reauthorization over the years even more remarkable:

Every time it has come up for a vote, support has been overwhelming and support has been truly bipartisan.

I don’t think that’s an accident. I think it’s because this program is about something more fundamental than party platforms or political gain, something more basic: that is, meeting our first responsibility as public servants – to preserve and protect people’s lives.

Indeed, as President Bush put it upon signing the PEPFAR reauthorization in 2008: “Defeating HIV/AIDS will require an unprecedented investment over generations. But it is an investment that yields the best possible return – saved lives.”

The numbers have proved him exactly right, and then some: 25 million lives saved and counting. Millions of infections prevented. AIDS-related deaths down by 68 percent since 2004. All of it backed by more than $110 billion directed through PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

What’s more, the reach of these dollars extends beyond households affected by HIV/AIDS. They impact other conditions and diseases, as people with HIV face higher risk of illness or death from TB and cervical cancer. They’ve equipped national health systems with the infrastructure to respond to outbreaks like COVID-19 and Ebola.

I will say, having served as Ambassador to India, one of the largest initiatives we undertook was an effort to end tuberculosis in India. An effort that still continues. But that infrastructure that was put together for HIV/AIDS is so important to the fight against TB. It is so important to the fight against malaria and related diseases.

These investments, in short, are part of a continuum of progress in public health.

These investments save lives.

These investments reflect the very best of our foreign policy, our diplomacy, and our humanity. And extending them ultimately comes down to a choice about who we are as a nation and who we wish to be around the world:

Are we willing to take a back seat in the battle against HIV/AIDS, see our progress undone, and permit the unnecessary loss of life?

Or are we ready to reaffirm American leadership in this fight; help our partners in Africa and elsewhere deliver treatment, care, and eventually a cure to their citizens; and double down on our determination to end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat once and for all?

I have no doubt what our answer will be. Because for all the numbers and statistics surrounding our efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, our mission and meaning aren’t about anything abstract.

Behind those facts and figures are families made whole thanks to our commitment; communities made healthier thanks to our investment; countries made more secure thanks to our support.

And that must continue to be the truest measure of our efforts to forge a future that is stronger, safer, and yes, AIDS-free.

That is how we must give life to the theme of this World AIDS Day – to “remember and commit” – honoring the memories of those lost to this horrific scourge with a renewed commitment to defeat it.

And working together, I know we can achieve those goals.

I am so grateful that all of you spend the time that you do each day working on this effort – for your courage, your leadership, your expertise. And I look forward to seeing even more success in the years ahead. Thank you very much.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future