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U.S. Senate Hearings and Testimony: Testimony of Bono, Founding Member, DATA

U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, May 19, 2004

 

May 18, 2004 Foreign Operations Subcommittee Hearing on the FY05 Budget Request for HIV/AIDS: Testimony of Bono, Founding Member, DATA

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Statement of Bono Hearing of the Subcommittee on Appropriations of the Committee on Foreign Operations U.S. Senate

May 18, 2004

Thank you, Chairman McConnell. It is an honour to be asked to share my thoughts today. Let me also thank some very good friends: Senators Leahy, DeWine, Durbin and so many others who have shown such leadership on these issues.

And such patience in dealing with a rock star who asks for a seat at your distinguished table, then refuses to leave... or to turn down the music he's blasting. Frankly there are a lot of people who wish I'd stay in the studio -- including my band.

You let me in the door on debt relief; we've worked together on AIDS and the Millennium Challenge; and now I'm going to abuse your hospitality by hanging 'round and talking loudly when you really ought to be hearing from someone who knows better -- a medical doctor like Jim Kim at WHO, or a treatment advocate like Zackie Achmet of South Africa, or a true heroine like Agnes, here, whom many of you know.

That said, I promise to talk briefly -- and politely. Though I think it's really...brilliant to be here...my testimony will be suitable for family audiences. Your children, your country, are safe from my exuberant language.

I've just returned from your nation's first capital -- Philadelphia -- where my organisation, DATA, and an array of other groups launched a new effort we're calling 'The ONE Campaign.' These organisations represent millions of Americans, from evangelicals to student activists. They came from all over the country. And they're speaking with one voice in the fight against AIDS and extreme poverty.

What are they saying?

They're saying -- as I think we all agree -- this is a critical moment.

We're making progress in the fight against AIDS. Gaining speed. Building momentum. But only as long as we keep our foot on the gas. Senators, as you know, we've got a lot more road ahead.

Our success so far should make us confident. But it can't make us content. We're off to a great start -- but only you can make sure it's not a false start. If we stop at AIDS, we won't beat AIDS. We need to do more about the conditions -- the extreme poverty -- in which AIDS thrives.

Now, I'm not a Pollyanna on this stuff; I've seen it work. I've seen it save and transform lives. So let me talk briefly about the results we're seeing.

As I mentioned, I met many of you a few years back when we worked to cancel the debt that burdens the poorest countries. Today, 27 countries -- almost all in Africa -- are investing that money in schools, vaccinations, and roads instead of in debt payments. In Uganda, I've stood with Senator Frist at a clean water well built thanks to debt relief. Debt money didn't go down a 'rathole,' it went down a waterhole.

More recently, we've all worked together on the Millennium Challenge. This is smart money, new aid in new ways, rewarding poor countries who are leading in the fight against corruption. Though it's only just up and running, it's already having an impact, encouraging countries to reform.

The President has asked you for another $2.5 billion for 2005. I figure that's a little more persuasive than my asking you, so I'll just urge you to support him on that. DATA, the organization I helped start, has found that the 16 well-governed poor countries selected for MCA are ready to use all of that funding on sound poverty reduction plans. They need what only you can give them: a chance.

All in all, then, we've made a good start. But only that. A start.

We're not here today for a victory lap; we're here to pick up the pace. Because AIDS is outrunning us, Senators; it's killing 6,300 Africans a day, infecting 8,800 more Africans a day; and the most incredible part is it's fully preventable, it's fully treatable.

We actually have the power to make this stop. But the tough thing about that realisation is that it means you've actually got to do something about it. For the first time in history, we have the brains, we have the cash, and we have the life-saving drugs. But do we have the political will?

Ambassador Tobias does. As we heard, he sees the fire raging and he is leading a fire brigade, and that's a great thing. He needs your support, full funding of around two-and-a-half billion dollars for bilateral programs.

Every dollar counts. That's why the whole debate over generic medications is frankly frustrating. When there's a fire raging, you don't fight it with the finest spring water...You turn on the hose and put the fire out. There are safe generic drugs saving lives right now at a fraction of the price of their brand-name twins.

I know that Americans want to get the biggest bang for their buck: to treat as many people as possible. That's the whole point, right? If that's your goal, isn't the Administration's position on generics untenable? Hopefully this is starting to change, we still need to hear the details.

As I said, every dollar counts, and some dollars count for triple. I'm talking about your contributions to the Global Fund -- an essential part of the fight and a vital partner to what the U.S. is doing. Every contribution America makes gets other countries to kick in more. Tony Blair says so. So does President Chirac. So does Paul Martin. I know because I've been making the rounds with the tin-cup in those countries too.

To date, the U.S. has made one-third of the Fund's contributions -- I urge you to maintain that commitment, in the neighbourhood of $1.2 billion for next year. Yes, the Fund has had growing pains, but the fact is it's growing -- in scale and in impact: not only on AIDS but on the other killer diseases that worsen it, malaria and TB. Combined with bilateral, this is about $3.6b which is allowed under last year's law.

Of course, miracle drugs alone are no miracle cure: we can't defeat AIDS unless we do more about the extreme poverty in which it spreads. Otherwise our efforts will come to naught. You can't take a pill if you don't have clean water to swallow it. You can't strengthen your immune system if there's no food in your belly. And you can't teach kids to protect themselves if they don't go to school.

That's why the Millennium Challenge and other key programs you fund through USAID are essential. More investment is needed...a lot more. President Bush has asked for a lot more -- over $21 billion total -- for Foreign Operations for 2005, because he, like many of you, I think, sees victory in this battle as vital to your national security. The Senate in passing a bipartisan budget resolution has gone a step further on these issues, and I applaud that. I trust the Senate will hold onto its minimum amounts and keep up the pressure for more.

Let me say this in closing.

Senators, I spend a lot of time in this country. Maybe too much for your liking. I spend a lot of time in buses. At truck stops. In town halls. In church halls. I do all this, and I'm not even running for office.

But you know what's amazing? Everywhere I go, I see very much the same thing. I see the same compassion for people who live half a world away. I see the same concern about events beyond these borders. And, increasingly, I see the same conviction that we can and we must join together to stop the scourge of AIDS and poverty.

Americans are thinking big. As you always have. You know, almost 60 years ago, another continent was in danger of terminal decline -- not Africa, but Europe. And Europe is strong today thanks in part to the Marshall Plan. It was great for Europe, but it was also great for America. Brand USA never shined brighter.

Today we need the same audacity, imagination, and all-out commitment of a modern Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan built a bulwark against Communism; today, for half the cost, we can build a bulwark against the extremism of our age.

In turbulent times it's cheaper, and smarter, to make friends out of potential enemies than to defend yourself against them. A better world happens to be a safer one as well. That's a pretty good bargain.

The attention of the world might sometimes be elsewhere, but history is watching. It's taking notes. And it's going to hold us to account, each of us. There is so much you can do, with your power, with your leadership, to ensure that America is on the right side of history. When the story of these times gets written, we want it to say that we did all we could, and it was more than anyone could have imagined.

Thank you.



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