September 28, 2021

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UN High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS

15 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Recorded on June 4, 2021

Forty years ago this week, the CDC’s weekly mortality and morbidity report contained a short write-up on the cases of five young men who were treated in Los Angeles with what was described as a new form of pneumonia. Two died by the time the report was published; the remaining three died soon after.

After the publication, reports of similar cases poured in from New York, San Francisco, and other U.S. cities. It was not known at the time, but these were the first official reports of what would later become known as AIDS.

In the time since, an estimated 32.7 million people have lost their lives to AIDS-related illness globally, including 700,000 people in the United States. It’s a staggering number of lives lost. Each one of these individuals had loved ones, friends, and communities who mourned their loss.

But as we gather, more than 38 million people are living today with HIV, including 1.2 million people in the United States. They are our colleagues, our neighbors, our partners and family members; people of all ages, races, faiths, nationalities. And thanks to the efforts of generations of brave leaders like Yana Panfilova, who we heard from in the opening plenary, fewer of these individuals feel they need to hide their status.

We’re proud of the work the United States and partners around the world have done together to turn the tide in this epidemic.

Since President Bush launched the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, in 2003, we’ve invested more than $85 billion in this effort; helped save 20 million lives; prevented millions of HIV infections; and strengthened local health systems across 54 countries.

Few initiatives in the history of American foreign policy have done so much to help so many people; it’s one of our proudest contributions to the international community.

These investments have also helped keep Ebola, H1N1, and other deadly diseases from raging out of control. And they’ve been vital in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

As we all know, we’ve made these strides by working together across governments and multilateral institutions, as well as with advocates, scientists, community-based organizations, businesses, doctors, and educators.

Yet despite the remarkable progress, our work is not done.  Enduring inequities continue to stand in the way of ending this epidemic. Inequities across and within our counties and communities; inequities along social, economic, racial, and gender lines. All of which have been worsened by COVID-19.

If we fail to close these gaps, millions more people will acquire HIV, and millions more people now living with HIV will die.

Ending AIDS is within our reach. But we cannot achieve that goal if we deny people’s sexual and reproductive rights, or foster discrimination against the very people who are the most vulnerable to HIV.

That means ensuring equitable access to HIV services for all, particularly the populations most impacted by the epidemic: the LGBTQI+ community, people who use drugs, sex workers, racial and ethnic minorities, women and girls.

Laws, policies, and practices that make it harder for these populations to access crucial services only increase stigma and put more lives at risk. And they cut against the core principles of the United Nations.

Today, we look to our fellow member states to work with the United States toward ensuring all people have equal access to quality HIV services, regardless of who they are or who they love.

We’ve made tremendous progress together in the 40 years since those first five cases were reported. Let’s build on our gains, recommit to reaching those still in need, and end the HIV epidemic for everyone, everywhere.

Thanks for listening.

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