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Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. OBAMA (for himself, Ms. Snowe, Mr. Durbin, Mr. Dodd, Mrs. Clinton, Mrs. Boxer, Mr. Schumer, and Mr. Kerry):

S. 823. A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act with respect to facilitating the development of microbicides for preventing transmission of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, today is International Women's Day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, and political achievements of women around the world. We have come a long way in equality for women since that first International Women's Day in 1909. Yet, even as we celebrate these victories, we must acknowledge and increase awareness of the myriad struggles that women continue to face today. The battle against HIV/AIDS is one such struggle, and one that women in this Nation and across the world are losing. And that is why today, I am reintroducing the Microbicide Development Act, to help women protect themselves against deadly HIV infection.

The devastation that HIV/AIDS is causing around the world is, sadly, not news to any of us. During a visit to Africa last August, I was reminded of this tragedy. I visited an HIV/AIDS hospital in South Africa that was filled to capacity with people who walked hours--even days--just for the chance to seek help. I saw just a few of the 15 million orphans in Africa who lost their parents to this epidemic. All the while, I remembered in the back of my mind that in some areas, 90 percent of those infected with HIV are unaware of their status, and this epidemic will only continue to get worse.

But what we don't always focus on is the particular devastation HIV/AIDS is bringing to women worldwide. As of 2006, nearly half of the over 37 million adults living with HIV/AIDS worldwide were women. In sub-Saharan Africa, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is 3 times higher among women ages 15 to 24 than among men of that age group. The severity of the problem hits close to home as well, with HIV/AIDS being the leading cause of death for African American women ages 25 to 34.

Women have unique biological vulnerabilities that make them twice as likely as men to contract HIV from an infected partner during intercourse. And for many women, particularly in the developing world, social and cultural norms deny them the ability to insist on mutual monogamy or condom use, thus limiting their tools for prevention. In many situations, women who become infected have only one partner--their husband. In fact, studies in India have shown that among women infected with HIV, 93 percent were married, and 91 percent overall had only one partner--their husbands. Focusing solely on ABC's--abstain, be faithful, use condoms--is clearly failing these women. There is a naivety in thinking that abstinence and fidelity are real options for all men and women around the world, and so we have a moral obligation to expand prevention tools.

Yet despite the fact that women have been increasingly devastated by this disease, female-initiated methods of prevention are limited and current prevention options are not enough.

Topical microbicides represent a woman-initiated method of prevention that would put the power of prevention in the hands of women. Mathematical models predict that even a partially effective microbicide could prevent 2.5 million infections over 3 years and that gradual introduction of newer and better microbicides could ultimately save a generation of women. Topical microbicides, therefore, represent a critical element in a comprehensive strategy to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

A number of groups, including the International Partnership for Microbicides, the Alliance for Microbicide Development, the National Women's Health Network, the Global Campaign for Microbicides, and the Gates Foundation, have led the effort to develop a prevention tool for use by women. The National Institutes of Health has invested in microbicides research, including support for the newly formed Microbicides Trial Network. I would be remiss if I did not also recognize the efforts of the CDC and USAID in microbicide development. With 10 microbicide candidates currently in clinical development and over 30 in preclinical development, we are making headway in this field.

But we cannot let this momentum slow. We must continue to prioritize microbicide research and development. Increased Federal support and coordination, which is provided for in the Microbicide Development Act, will give a clear sign that the Federal Government is willing to put forth the effort critical to the development of an effective product to protect our mothers, daughters, sisters, and other loved ones. I echo the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said that, ``with leadership, collaborative effort, sufficient financial resources, and product development expertise, a microbicide is within reach.' Congress should support our Federal health agencies and their partners in their efforts, and passage of the Microbicide Development Act would give an unambiguous indication that this work is a priority for all of us.

In closing, I point out that we have made tremendous strides in medical treatment for individuals infected with HIV/AIDS. But this treatment comes with a price tag that is unsustainable. Between 2003 and 2005, for every one person receiving anti-retroviral treatment, ten more individuals became infected. We are not able to treat all of those currently infected let alone this exponentially growing number of individuals who will need treatment down the line. Universal treatment today would cost roughly $7 billion. Given that we only fund PEPFAR and the Global Fund at $2 billion, that $7 billion price tag, which is only going to grow, appears rather daunting. This financial situation serves to underscore the moral obligation we have to invest in microbicides and other prevention tools. Let us hope that during International Women's Days to come, we will be celebrating tremendous success in the fight against HIV/AIDS rather than the loss of yet another generation of women.

I thank you for this time, and I urge my colleagues to support the Microbicide Development Act.


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