Congressman Hank Johnson

Representing the 4th District of Georgia

Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC) will observe World AIDS Day: “Getting to Zero”

January 17, 2013
Speech

Thank you to the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition for inviting me to address this august body as we observe World AIDS Day: “Getting to Zero.”

Marking the occasion of World AIDS Day with you is a distinct and singular honor.

We should be proud of the remarkable progress that has been made over the past 30 years in the fight against HIV and AIDS, but this day is also a reminder that our work is far from over. 

I join you in pledging to continue the fight for an AIDS-free generation.

Through the Ryan White program, research dollars, and international aid, the federal government has helped lead the fight to save lives, find more effective treatments and, and hopefully one day soon, a cure. 

Unfortunately, the debate over the ‘fiscal cliff’ puts all of this remarkable federal effort at risk.

I’m proud to be a member of the bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus. I want to assure everyone here today that I am fighting to prevent the devastating sequestration cuts to HIV/AIDS programs that are scheduled to occur on January 2, 2013. 

A balanced solution will address the federal deficit without cutting programs such as Medicaid and the AIDS Drug Assistance Program that so many people with HIV/AIDS depend upon for their care and treatment.

Like President Obama, I believe raising revenue is an essential part of a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Failure to include revenue increases will force harmful cuts to HIV/AIDS programs that are literally saving lives here and abroad.

Sequestration cuts, scheduled to take place in just a few weeks, will reverse efforts to prevent HIV in our country and severely disrupt the system of lifesaving care and treatment that today serves more than 500,000 low-income people with HIV/AIDS. With 50,000 new infections each year and a record 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS, we cannot turn our backs on the remarkable progress we have made in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS at a time when we know how to prevent and treat HIV.

If sequestration cuts are allowed to take hold, based on 2012 spending levels, a total of $538 million will be cut from these vital programs in 2013:

The impact of these harmful cuts would mean translate into the following:

  • 15,708 people would lose access to crucial life-saving drugs due to a $77 million cut to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program
  • 4,738 households would lose housing support
  • 460 AIDS research grants would be eliminated

People living with HIV or who are at risk of being infected with HIV depend on many other programs, including several at the CDC that will be cut by sequestration. These programs have already suffered substantial funding cuts over the past several years amounting to over a 15% funding reduction since 2010. With caseloads growing and new HIV infections occurring every day, these programs cannot afford to take additional reductions.

This past July, the United States successfully hosted the return of the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., celebrating the bipartisan leadership our country continues to display in responding to the global HIV/AIDS crisis. While the annual number of new HIV infections has steadily declined, an estimated 34 million people around the world continue to live with HIV, including over 1 million people in the United States.

We must not turn back now in our efforts to GETTING TO ZERO!

It’s one of the reasons I held an HIV/AIDS Roundtable on Capitol Hill in June of this year with AIDS United to address the alarming new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that half of new HIV infections and AIDS diagnoses in 2009 were in the South. Improving access to healthcare and addressing a shortage of doctors who specialize in treating HIV/AIDS patients are key areas to address. By raising this issue, I hope to shed light on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the South, among women, and especially among women of color.

And it’s why Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California and I sent a letter to the White House, co-signed by 50 of our congressional colleagues, concerning the rising HIV rates in the South and among women – particularly women of color. Black women are being stricken and dying at an outrageous rate while resources for treatment and prevention are totally inadequate – especially in the South. This epidemic needs urgent attention at the highest levels.

I will continue to stand with you and speak out.

As many of you know throughout 2009, I was on a robust course of treatment for hepatitis C, a virus that affects more than four million Americans. I am pleased to announce today that my therapy is complete.

I am alive, feeling good and strong. How did James Brown put it? “I feel good!”

But in all seriousness, I stand here today bolstered by the love I have received from my family, my constituents and my colleagues.

I hope that my disclosure in 2009 will provide others suffering from hepatitis, and other stigmatized illness like HIV/AIDS, with confidence to speak out and educate the community. If you have viral hepatitis or HIV, have faith and be strong. You are not alone.

Through clinical trials and medical research, we must seek new, more effective treatments for both hepatitis and HIV. I am here this evening in part because I want to send a strong message that a cure is possible for hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

I believe all Americans should be tested, and if they have a positive result, they should be treated. Make no mistake about it viral hepatitis and HIV are treatable.

In light of the urgent need, we must devote the will and resources it deserves. I am also here today because this issue goes to the core of the national battle for comprehensive health insurance reform.

To me, this national health care debate was about controlling costs and covering the uninsured.  We can no longer allow insurance companies to deny people coverage simply because they are ill.  Everyone’s health is on the line.

Our lives are at stake. Let’s be about the business of moving healthcare reform forward NOW!

Today, I’m also proud to announce that I fully support President Obama’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Blueprint: Creating an AIDS-free Generation that provides a roadmap for how the U.S. government will work to help achieve an AIDS-free generation. As someone who knows first-hand the difficulties of treatment, I know that this plan cannot come soon enough. 

This is a fight we cannot afford to lose – a fight for sustained funding and awareness to literally save millions of lives across the world.

I was fortunate enough to have access to good health care. Millions of others are not that lucky. I stand with you here to fight for them.

I’m not going to stop fighting until the victory is won. This has not so much been a struggle for me as a battle -- A battle that I have won. Beating this disease has made me stronger – it’s made me more determined than ever.

My heart is in this and I’m glad to be surrounded by advocates who together can help us eradicate HIV-AIDS.

Thank you.

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