Delhi, India--- U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. today toured the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) facility and said that more international support was still needed in the fight against AIDS.
Pallone, a Democratic Congressman from New Jersey, co-founded the U.S. House of Representatives' Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans in 1993 and served as the co-chair from 1993-1998. With well over 100 members, the Caucus seeks to identify issues of concern to the growing U.S./India relationship and to advocate policies to strengthen that relationship. Following, is a statement Pallone gave at a news conference after the tour.
"I am pleased to be here today to advocate for greater investment in an AIDS vaccine, to fight for greater HIV/AIDS education and prevention, and to return dignity to all those individuals and families who have been affected by HIV/AIDS.
"As a Member of the U.S. Congress, as a senior Democratic Member of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Health and as the founder of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, I have dedicated myself to issues of healthcare and to the region of South Asia. There are few issues that fuse these two bodies of work, health care and South Asia, but the one that has undoubtedly had the greatest impact on both areas is the critical issue of AIDS.
"I am pleased to be joined here today by Mr. Kapil Sibal, a Member of Parliament and the Co-Chair of the Indo-US Parliamentary Forum, which is the counterpart of the U.S. Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans. A group of Parliamentarians under the leadership of Kapil Sibal has been very active on HIV/AIDS in India and visited Washington, DC with IAVI in June to speak to Members of Congress about this issue. I applaud their hard work in this area and again, am very happy to stand here with Kapil Sibal and IAVI in a united front on HIV/AIDS.
"As we are all aware, the HIV/AIDS pandemic spreading across the world is horrifying. Second to Africa, the South Asian region has the largest growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the world, with statistics showing that approximately 8 million people have been infected. Quite alarmingly, the HIV/AIDS epidemic is growing exponentially in South Asia and is estimated to infect 40 million individuals if the situation is not immediately addressed at an international level.
"Many individuals can be reached through education and prevention, however, until we have a vaccine, the number of AIDS cases will continue to grow. IAVI has recognized this and has taken proactive steps towards funding vaccine research and clinical trials. I was happy to be able to support funding for IAVI in the Fiscal Year 2004 appropriations cycle and I was pleased that the appropriators provided $25 million to IAVI in 2004. This represents a commitment from Congress to vaccine research.
"Unfortunately, the international support to fight this epidemic is still inadequate, even though it seems clear that public support for HIV/AIDS programs are at its highest levels. For instance, The National Bipartisan Poll released data last year revealing that 75% of Americans identify the spreading of HIV/AIDS in developing nations to be "extremely" or "quite" serious. In fact, the survey found that preventing the spread of AIDS is only second to stopping drug smuggling and that the U.S. government should spend more to reverse the devastating effects of AIDS on the human race.
"Clearly, financial contributions and a commitment on the part of many nations are needed to curb this pandemic. Specifically, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has stated that $7 billion to $10 billion is required annually to fight AIDS on a global scale. Yet, the United States' contribution alone has been inadequate.
"After a highly publicized pledge by President Bush during his State of the Union address to provide 15 billion to HIV/AIDS, the President in the end asked for a relatively small funding increase to fight HIV/AIDS in the developing world. In addition, with the federal budget stretched to pay for the war in Iraq, tax cuts and homeland security projects, the White House has warned cabinet departments that the FY 2005 budget proposal will include only $1.1 billion in increased spending for international HIV/AIDS projects.
"The core of the President's policy was to provide funding for 14 hard-hit countries from Haiti to Kenya, however, he is not willing to back up his rhetoric with hard dollars. Despite this discrepancy, there is strong support among Members of Congress to include adequate funding for HIV/AIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, however, much needs to be done on the part of legislators in order to see this money appropriated next year. I will be working towards seeing that some of this funding goes to India, and I plan on pushing for Congressional hearings to this end.
"From what I understand, only about one-percent of all HIV/AIDS funding goes towards vaccine research. This is a figure that must be changed if we want to put an end to AIDS as a global pandemic that destroys lives, families and communities. AIDS has fostered morbidity and mortality among the most defenseless in society and furthermore, AIDS has positioned its victims in the stigmatizing, socially unjust, hateful eyes of the public. Blaming the victim is a recurrent theme in the history of epidemic disease, but even more so with AIDS because of the way it is transmitted.
"The wonderful work being done by IAVI recognizes that women in South Asia are the fastest growing category of AIDS carriers and that the threat of AIDS is quite significant not only for the lives of the victims but also the lives of the many people who are cared for by women. IAVI also seeks to change the current situation with successful intervention that makes connections between social vulnerability and biological vulnerability, and how these factors contribute to the overall assessment of AIDS in South Asia and throughout the developing world.
"I support and commend IAVI and all others who are in favor of social, cultural and economic change to improve the health standards and quality of life for women, which will inevitably have a curbing impact on the dynamic, explosive spread of HIV/AIDS. I will pursue the fight in Congress to obtain funding for HIV/AIDS here, in the United States and internationally. I will also remain committed to educating my constituents and my colleagues in the House and Senate about prioritizing the South Asian region and continuing the comprehensive approach we must take."