Statement of Representative Jerrold Nadler on the 20th Anniversary of the Discovery of AIDS

Jun 4, 2001 Issues: Health Care

Twenty years ago the medical world was riding a wave of confidence.  Our scientists had conquered polio, tuberculosis, small pox, you name it.  We were ready for any new challenge.  But no one was prepared on June 5th, 1981 for the crisis that was to come.   Some thought this new discovery to be a rare pneumonia, others a new form of cancer.  It attracted minor attention at the time, but little did we know that the world was about to meet the most devastating epidemic of our time -- AIDS.

When we look back now at our response to the onset of AIDS, we see a nation that ignored an epidemic and a Congress reluctant to devote resources to finding its cure.  Too many people believed that they could never contract AIDS and they failed to protect themselves from it.  But no one is immune, and by the time we looked up AIDS had reached every community across the world.  One need only look at the decimation of the African continent to see the dramatic consequences of our inattention to AIDS.

In the last decade we have made great strides in this country in dealing with this terrifying crisis.  Research funded by the NIH has yielded incredible breakthroughs in treatment, indefinitely prolonging the lives of people living with HIV.  The Ryan White CARE Act has established a comprehensive program of treatment and support services, bringing a little hope and humanity to people living with HIV and AIDS.  The HOPWA program is helping almost 60,000 people a year find the stable housing they need to live long and productive lives.  We should be proud of these efforts.

But there is a new epidemic that has beset us.  It is called complacency.  The flat funding for Ryan White proposed by the President, the rising number of HIV cases reported in women, the dramatic increase in HIV across communities of color.  These should serve as a wake-up call to all of us that our work is nowhere near done.  We must redouble our efforts in prevention and treatment if we hope to ever eliminate it from our midst.  Before we can eradicate AIDS, we must eradicate the complacency that surrounds us.

Anniversaries are a time for reflection, a time to look back at where we’ve been and look ahead to where we may be going.  We have a lot to be proud of in our response to the AIDS epidemic, but let’s take this opportunity to re-energize our AIDS policy and conquer this terrible disease once and for all.