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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 28, 1998
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

Old Executive Office Building

5:16 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you and welcome, every one of you. I'd like to begin by welcoming the Mayor of Baltimore, Kurt Schmoke, and the Mayor of East St. Louis, Gordon Bush. I'd like to thank the members of Congress here behind me who are so responsible for the purpose for which we are called today. (Applause.)

I want to acknowledge Congresswoman Donna Christian Green, Congressman Elijah Cummings, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congressman Donald Payne. I will say more about Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Representative Lou Stokes in a moment. (Laughter.) But I want to thank them and all the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including all the House members and Senator Carol Moseley Braun, for what they did.

And then I would like to offer a special word of appreciation to Senator Arlen Specter and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who helped us so much to get this done. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

I want to thank everyone in our administration who has worked so hard on the issue of HIV and AIDS, beginning with the Vice President who couldn't be here today, but who has worked very hard on all these issues; and Secretary Shalala; our wonderful Surgeon General, David Satcher; the Director of our AIDS Policy Office, Sandy Thurman, who has literally spent months sounding the alarm about the growing crisis in communities of color, and working to help achieve these dramatic funding increases. There is no stronger or more effective advocate. And I think we ought to thank Sandy Thurman for what she's done. (Applause.)

Finally, I want to thank Denise Stokes for being here. As you will hear in a few moments, she has been living with HIV for 15 years, and has been giving so much of herself to educate others. If we are to stop this cruel disease we'll have to have brave people like Denise to reach out with candor and compassion to those at risk. I really admire her very much. And you'll hear from her in a moment, but I think we ought to give her a hand for showing up today. (Applause.)

We have good reason to feel encouraged that so many HIV-positive men and women are living longer and healthier lives. We should be proud that we've helped to speed the development of lifesaving therapies and nearly tripled to support those with HIV and AIDS.

But the AIDS epidemic is far from over in any community in our country. Today, we're here to send out a word loud and clear:

AIDS is a particularly severe and ongoing crisis in the African American and Hispanic communities and in other communities of color. African Americans represent only 13 percent of our population, but account for almost half the new AIDS cases reported last year. Hispanics represent 10 percent of our population; they account for more than 20 percent of the new AIDS cases. And AIDS is becoming a critical concern in some Native American and Asian American communities, as well.

Like other epidemics before it, AIDS is now hitting hardest in areas where knowledge about the disease is scarce and poverty is high. In other words, as so often happens, it is picking on the most vulnerable among us.

The fact is HIV infection is one of the most deadly health disparities between African Americans, Hispanics, and white Americans. And just as we have committed to help build one America by ending the racial and ethnic disparities in infant mortality and cancer and other diseases, we must use all our power to end the growing disparities in HIV and AIDS.

The AIDS crisis in our communities of color is a national one, and that is why we are greatly increasing our national response. Today I am proud to announce we are launching an unprecedented $156 million initiative to stem the AIDS crisis in minority communities. (Applause.)

It is one of the greatest victories in the balanced budget law I just signed. It never could have happened without the passionate and compassionate leadership of Maxine Waters, Lou Stokes, and the rest of the Congressional Black Caucus -- (applause) -- or the support of Senator Specter and Congresswoman Pelosi and so many others. (Applause.)

Now, this initiative will allow thousands of cities, churches, schools, and grass-roots organizations to expand prevention efforts and target them to the specific needs of specific minority communities such as young men, students, pregnant mothers. It will allow minority communities to expand treatment for substance abuse. It will increase access to protease inhibitors and other new therapies, because lifesaving therapies cannot be a luxury reserved only for the rich. (Applause.)

It will increase access to skilled doctors and other health care providers. And finally, it will help us to assemble teams of public health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and other federal agencies to visit individual communities and provide whatever technical assistance those communities need. (Applause.)

This new initiative will build on the other historic funding increases in HIV/AIDS funding we won in the new balanced budget, which Secretary Shalala will talk about in greater detail in a moment. I'm also pleased that it will build on our race and health initiative. Congress has taken a first step to fund this initiative, but we must do more. We are not one America when some of our communities lag so far behind in health.

Of course, this room looks nothing like a house of worship except for a few collars I see. (Laughter.) But I'd like to end my remarks today with what I think is quite an appropriate passage from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts. And though all its parts are many, they form one body. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."

So it is with the body of Americans, and a nation that strives to be one America. Every one of our communities is inextricably linked, in suffering and rejoicing, in sickness and in health. And that is why we must work together in every community to stop this cruel disease. Black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor, you name it, we have to stop it.

Now I'd like to present America's Surgeon General, our nation's family doctor, whose deep commitment to advancing our country's health is embodied in the 200-year-old guiding principle of our public health service that you best protect the health of the entire nation when you reach out to the most vulnerable people.

Dr. David Satcher. (Applause.)

END 5:30 P.M. EST