Some of you may know that I lost my first partner, Tom Leishman, to AIDS.
When I met Tom in 1985, this terrible disease barely had a name. On our second date, over dinner, Tom told me that he had “It.”
I knew what “It” was.
Everyone knew what “It” was, even if they didn’t like to talk about it.
We also knew people were dying from “It”.
In June of 1996, weighing less than 100 pounds, Tom died in my arms.
Thankfully, the world responded to the terrible “It” of 1985.
As a result of passionate engagement and research, the world has reached a critical moment in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Although HIV is still one of the leading killers of people around the world, we are making progress in finding a cure. Treatments are becoming more effective every year.
Through PEPFAR, the United States has made extraordinary progress in reducing new HIV infections and providing life-saving care and treatment to those who are living with HIV and AIDS.
Last year, PEPFAR supported programs led to the birth of the one millionth HIV-free baby to an HIV positive mother.
Around the world, new HIV infections are down almost 33% since 2003. Deaths from AIDS are down 30% since they peaked in 2005.
It has required an enormous international effort to get us to this point. But, because of that work, we are now on the brink of an AIDS free generation.
Reaching that goal, however, depends on people being able to get the preventative care and treatment that they need. It depends on educating our young people about prevention and transmission. It means sharing best practices. It means supporting the research that will lead to prevention and a cure. It means that all countries must bolster their commitments to fighting HIV and AIDS through organizations like the Global Fund.
Conferences like this one are a key component of that effort.
The International AIDS conference also allows me to highlight the importance of two of my favorite elements of U.S. foreign policy: exchanges and innovation cooperation.
President Obama believes that we can’t “win the future” without innovation. We don’t know where our economies will take us. We don’t know what our planet will throw our way. But by encouraging and developing the imaginations and talents of our young – and not so young – people, we can do our best to be prepared.
Better research and more innovation mean that the treatments available to us become better, more successful, and cheaper.
But none of us can go it alone.
Neither Americans nor Australians have a monopoly on good ideas or talented people. And so by sending our best and brightest to study overseas, we bring back new ideas, new ways of looking at problems, and – maybe – one day, a cure.
And we have felt this way for a very long time. One of the earliest treaties between the United States and Australia established the Fulbright program of educational and cultural exchanges. I find it very telling about our bilateral relations that – even before we thought of security – we looked at how we could expand our horizons and share knowledge.
And that commitment has paid off in many ways. Among our many impressive Fulbright scholars have been young Australians researching more effective treatments and a cure for HIV and AIDS while in the United States.
But I can’t say I find that surprising. Since my arrival here, I have been to every state and territory. Everywhere I go, I have been impressed by Australia’s dynamism. Australians, like Americans, are innovators, builders, creators. We share a natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge. It is natural that we would seek each other out when we want to learn and grow.
Nowhere is the innovative Australian spirit more apparent than here in Melbourne.
Scientists here have discovered a drug that can extract and destroy portions of HIV’s genetic code. They have developed a quick and cheap test to determine when a patient should begin anti-retroviral treatment. They are working on HIV vaccines and on boosting the immune systems of people with HIV.
Scientists from Melbourne are working with Americans and American institutions to cure malaria, map the brain, and find solutions to the world’s thorniest problems.
When I was preparing my remarks for today, I asked my team at the consulate here to find out how many exchanges we send back and forth each year between Melbourne and the United States alone. The responses were all variations on “too many to count.” Between government, academic, and private institutions we have an incredible number of exchanges. What we know for sure, is that our scientific cooperation is broad, deep, and hugely beneficial to us both.
Just as the human genome project depended on the cooperation of researchers from around the world, so will finding a cure for AIDS. An AIDS free generation is possible. It is within our grasp. It should be – it must be – the legacy of all those we have lost.
Together, we will commit this terrible disease to the pages of history so that no one else will lose a partner, a child, a parent, or a friend to AIDS.