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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 7, 1997
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                           The Roosevelt Room

2:25 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you. Please be seated. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I'd like to join the Vice President in thanking Eric Goosby for his work as the acting director of the office. And thank you very much, Patsy Fleming, for the fine job that you've done. We miss you. Thank you, Scott Hitt and all the members of the council, for the good work that you have been doing. And thank you, especially, for the meeting we had together not so very long ago, and the candor and passion of your recommendations.

America has not beaten AIDS yet, but we are getting closer and we remain committed to the fight, and to winning it. More than ever, we need a strong advocate for people with AIDS, and of course that's why we're here today. Let me begin by reiterating our goal: We want to find a vaccine against the AIDS virus and a cure for those who have HIV infection. They have eluded researchers so far, but we are committed -- the work goes on. And it will go on until we are successful.

Until that day comes when HIV and AIDS no longer threaten our people, we must continue to do all we can to hit the epidemic hard with a coordinated effort of research, treatment, and prevention.

When I took office, I established the Office of National AIDS Policy because America had been turning its head away from the problem. Many Americans had not come to grips with HIV and AIDS, and their consequences. Now we're learning. AIDS strikes in the best of families, and from this disease no community has immunity -- gay or straight, black or white, male or female, old or young. Anyone can get AIDS. And if we're going to win this fight, we must begin with the acceptance of that fact.

It was clear four years ago, as it is now, that it is only with an aggressive campaign against AIDS that we will win the battle. That is what we have begun. In the first four years, we increased overall spending by about 60 percent. In FY 1997 alone, $167 million will go to state AIDS drug assistance programs which provide access to medication, including protease inhibitors for low-income individuals with HIV who don't have prescription drug coverage.

We speeded the time needed to approve drugs to treat AIDS, leading to the approval of eight new AIDS drugs and 19 for AIDS-related conditions. This has allowed many people simply to go on with their lives, to live with this disease not worry free, but not in despair either.

We should all take heart that for the first time there has been a marked decrease in deaths among people with AIDS. With new treatment therapies, we hope to see even greater life expectancy. And with education and prevention, the number of estimated new HIV infections has slowed dramatically.

In our war against AIDS, the Office of National AIDS Policy plays an important role. The office is charged with coordinating all our federal policy and programs regarding AIDS. It also builds our partnerships with other levels of government and with private-sector communities, and organizations. Our office is charged with keeping us on track in treatment and in education and to keep our focus on research for ways to prevent and cure this disease. An AIDS vaccine could save millions of lives around the world. And we must help those who are already infected. Make no mistake, a cure has been and always will be our very first priority.

The Director of this office must be an individual with a clear understanding of AIDS as a disease and as a social issue in America, someone who knows the scientific front as well as the human center of AIDS, someone who knows how to fight to cut through red tape to get the job done.

I have found that person in the woman I nominate today to fill this office, Sandy Thurman. She is no stranger to those who know this issue. She's a member of our Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS. She's worked on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic for more than a decade. She's been an advocate and a catalyst at the state, local and national levels. She transformed AID Atlanta, the oldest and largest AIDS service organization in the south into one of the most successful projects of its kind anywhere in the country. As Executive Director from 1988 to 1993, she tripled its size, beefed up its budget, and made it a direct service agency with a staff of 90 workers and 1,000 volunteers.

Her experience in running a large community-based organization makes her especially well equipped to build the partnerships we need throughout our country, for beating the AIDS epidemic will take this kind of teamwork everywhere. I am pleased that she has agreed to serve as the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. I've worked with her and I can attest, she tells it like it is, she speaks the truth unvarnished, she won't hold back in this office. (Laughter and applause.) She is passionate. She is committed. She is difficult to say no to. (Laughter.) And I have already assured her that she will have the support and the resources she will need, including my personal support, to succeed in this all-important task. My door is open to her.

And now I'd like for us to all hear what she has to say. Sandy Thurman. (Applause.)

MS. THURMAN: Thank you, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President. Your being here together is a wonderful demonstration of your support for me and the administration's commitment to ending the AIDS crisis. I'm delighted to be joined today by my wonderful colleagues from the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS and so many very special friends with whom I've worked the last 13 years in trying to end this epidemic.

Mr. President, I certainly share your commitment to a cure and note that extraordinary recent advances in medical treatments have given us a reason for real new hope to ending this plague.

But as we all know, this is a crisis of monumental proportion, and it will take -- it must be addressed, and will take all of our vigor and energy that we can muster to make progress. The epidemic is not over, and we must not and will not rest until HIV is eradicated.

Today, I would like to ask all of those living with HIV and with AIDS, the community of care-givers and care-providers, AIDS activists like you all, local and national AIDS organizations, and all of the federal agencies to join with the President, the Vice President, and with me in an even stronger partnership. Only by working together will we have a chance to successfully meet the challenges that this very complicated epidemic presents to us.

The President has given me his personal commitment to leadership in the fight against AIDS. And in turn, I offer the community my commitment to the efforts to develop vaccines, to find a cure, to stop the transmission of HIV, and to provide appropriate services and care to people who are already infected.

We will work to improve the level of services and housing for those most in need in our society while assessing the implications of changes in social programs like welfare and Medicaid.

We will strive to support culturally appropriate services and prevention messages to communities of color, to women, and to young gay men, where this epidemic is moving the fastest.

We will work to counteract the devastating effects that homophobia and that racism continue to have on this epidemic. (Applause.) And as you all know, this is not work that is done in a vacuum by me or by those in Washington here; it is work done by the thousands of people that are dedicated and selfless in communities across the country who struggle day by day to make a difference in this epidemic.

Our job here is to make certain that they have the tools to do their good work. I am heartened that, in that same spirit, the President has made a substantial effort to strengthen the Office of National AIDS Policy. We will be working to build an enhanced staff with a broad range of skills, and we will enlist those who best understand medical and treatment issues, prevention and education, social programs, discrimination, and housing to share their expertise. And I might add, that would be all of you. (Laughter.)

We have the highest level of access to the administration; I think that's evidenced here today. This is another reflection of the President's and the Vice President's commitment to our nation's war on HIV and AIDS.

This is not an epidemic of a few; this is an epidemic of us all. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have already lost their lives to AIDS. It has stolen some of our brightest and most talented friends and loved ones in the prime of their lives. And beyond our borders, millions of people struggle against the odds to live long enough to reap the benefits of a cure.

We are deeply aware of responsibility that this administration has to all Americans who are living with HIV and AIDS and to those all around the world who turn to us for leadership and for hope. That is an awesome responsibility, one which will demand that each of us work together in partnership to end this epidemic. I look forward to that partnership and appreciate this opportunity to offer whatever help I can to the President, to the nation, and to all of you who are working so valiantly on the front lines of this epidemic. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.

Q Mr. President, how do you see this czar being different from your two previous czars? What would you like to see changes? And have you given up on the so-called "Manhattan-style" project that you promised in '92?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think if you look at -- let me answer the second question first. If I had told you in 1993 in January, when I was inaugurated, that we would have eight new AIDS drugs for AIDS-related conditions, that the number of AIDS related deaths would be going down, and that the quality and length of life expectancy would expand as much as it had -- you would think that we had put a pretty good amount of effort in here with a 60 percent increase in our investment.

So I think we're moving forward. What I would like to see is to rely on the President's Advisory Council and the AIDS office even more heavily to mobilize even more people to have support for the work we're doing and research to find a cure and also to do more at the grassroots level and to tie the efforts at the community level to what we're trying to do nationally. And I think that Sandy will do a very good job of that because of her personal experience in Atlanta.

Q Mr. President, when you read --

Q Mr. President, do you think you've made any progress, sir, in your meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu? Do you think that you've been able to move the peace process closer to being back on track as you put it earlier?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we had quite a long meeting, as you know. What are we, an hour late staring here? (Laughter.) And I apologize to you for that, but it was necessary that we continue the meeting. It was a long and very thorough meeting. Now it's important for us to visit with the Palestinians, and we'll try to get this thing up and going again.

But you know how these things are -- it's -- I need to say not too much about it and work very hard on it. And that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to do my best to get it back on track.

Q But Mr. President, Mr. President, did anything -- part of the Palestinian frustration is that the Prime Minister says he wants to speed up final status talks. His position -- according to them -- appears to be final. I was wondering if you saw any change in that position?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm -- again, I think the problem is the more I comment, the more I undermine the chances of success. We had a very specific, frank, candid, and long talk. And now we're going to talk to the Palestinians and see whether there is something we can do to get this going again. And we'll do our very best, and I'll do my best. That's all I think I should say right now.

THE PRESS: Thank you.


END 2:40 P.M. EDT