Remarks by Mark L. Schneider for Announcement of Peace Corps HIV/AIDS Initiative

June 27, 2000

Remarks by Mark L. Schneider Director of the Peace Corps Announcement of Peace Corps HIV/AIDS Initiative June 27, 2000 Washington, D.C.
Good morning. I want to begin by thanking our distinguished guest, Sandra Thurman, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy for joining us for this important occasion. Sandra is a powerful force for comprehensive action to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS. Let me also thank USAID Administrator Brady Anderson for his presence, his support, and his personal leadership in helping to implement the Administration's international response to HIV/AIDS. The U.S. Agency for International Development has been a continuing partner with the Peace Corps in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and that support will be critical to the success of the initiative we are announcing today.
We also are pleased at the presence of Dr. Helene Gayle, HIV/AIDS Director of the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC's pioneering public health work has helped to identify effective responses to HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases. Here with us are a host of partners and friends, from the public sector, the private sector, the non-governmental community, private foundations and HIV/AIDS advocacy groups. I particularly want to note that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, have joined as partners and are specifically contributing new funding to help us carry out our HIV/AIDS initiative. Let me also offer a word of thanks for the presence today of ambassadors and other diplomatic representatives of our partner countries in Africa. In particular, I would like to recognize His Excellency Dr. Lebohang Moledo, the Ambassador of Lesotho to the United States.
Finally, I want to recognize 29 very special individuals who are here in Shriver Hall. Tomorrow, this group of outstanding people will leave the United States for the African nation of Mauritania to begin their training as Peace Corps Volunteers. Even more fitting, they will be a critical part of this initiative, joining the HIV/AIDS component of a health sector program that is working with people in Mauritania to respond to the problems of HIV/AIDS in that country. I know everyone in the audience joins me in thanking you for your service. We wish you the very best and ask that you stand so we can express our appreciation.
In January of this year, Vice President Al Gore addressed the United Nations Security Council to underscore the threat that HIV/AIDS poses to the international community in general, and Africa in particular. The Vice President called AIDS "a global aggressor that must be defeated," and said, "For the nations of sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is not just a humanitarian crisis. It is a security crisis—because it threatens not just individual citizens, but the very institutions that define and defend the character of a society." Given these realities, I am proud to announce that this Peace Corps initiative will assist the people of 25 African partner nations facing the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This initiative has three main components. First, over the next three years, 5,000 Peace Corps Volunteers—every Volunteer in Africa today and every Volunteer going to Africa in the future—will become a part of the world's efforts to contain this pandemic. For some Volunteers, working on HIV/AIDS projects will be their primary assignment in health. For others, it will be integrated directly into their non-health sector work. And for all of them, it will be an issue that they will address with new skills during their Peace Corps service.
The 2,400 Volunteers serving in Africa today are being re-trained with new tools and given new materials, including some in local African languages. These resources will help Volunteers train others on how to prevent the spread of the disease, strengthen organizations ofople living with AIDS and those directly affected by AIDS, including the more than 7 million orphansople living with AIDS and those directly affected by AIDS, including the more than 7 million orphans in those countries, and respond to the social and economic impact of the disease. In addition, in Eastern and Southern Africa, where the continent is most severely affected by the pandemic, the Peace Corps will expand HIV/AIDS-specific projects in several countries this year. Fifty new Peace Corps Volunteers will be assigned to these activities. For instance, a Kenyan water and sanitation project with integrated HIV/AIDS education components will start operating this month. In Tanzania, Volunteers will arrive later this year to begin a new health program in which biology teachers will teach young people about HIV/AIDS. Volunteers in Lesotho will begin training to work in HIV/AIDS prevention this summer. And Zambia's HIV/AIDS projects will expand significantly this year. The second component of our initiative will be to include the host country counterparts of our Volunteers, such as health workers and health center directors, school teachers and school directors, NGO leaders, small businessmen and women, and cooperative and union leaders in their HIV/AIDS education training. In this way, we will multiply, many times over, the voices and actions of thousands of people who are engaged in HIV/AIDS campaigns. It is in this aspect of our initiative that we will be working most closely with our partners, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which, I am honored to announce, has provided a very generous donation of $500,000 to support the work of our Volunteers on HIV/AIDS projects in the initial year.
We hope to use these resources and the support from other organizations, such as the Packard Foundation, to prepare better education materials, more extensive training, and the promotion of broad-based outreach efforts. We also look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts with USAID, UNICEF, WHO and UNAIDS and non-governmental organizations such as Save the Children, CARE, and others to respond to the needs of people throughout Africa. The third key component of our initiative will be to draw on the experience of the 59,000 Americans who have served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Africa since 1961, many of whom have served as health Volunteers. Over the last several years, the Crisis Corps, our program that enables former Peace Corps Volunteers to return to service for limited periods of time, has made significant contributions to reconstruction and recovery efforts in Central American countries that were devastated by natural disasters. There is no more lethal and prolonged natural disaster than HIV/AIDS. It claimed more lives last year than all of the wars and civil conflicts on the continent of Africa. I believe that Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are ready to contribute to our HIV/AIDS initiative. Indeed, we have already received requests from five African countries for Crisis Corps Volunteers, and we are working to fulfill those requests. Therefore, as part of this initiative, the Crisis Corps will be sending up to 200 former Volunteers to Africa to work for up to six months on HIV/AIDS projects. I am issuing a call to returned Peace Corps Volunteers across the country to consider devoting their time, cross-cultural skills, and experience to help respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis by serving in the Crisis Corps. This new HIV/AIDS initiative continues a proud tradition within the Peace Corps. For four decades, Volunteers have worked side-by-side with their neighbors and communities, with their fellow teachers or health workers in every great campaign against disease. In the l960s and early l970s, Peace Corps Volunteers were instrumental in the successful international campaigns to eradicate small pox. Today, they are also engaged in the immunization effort to rid the planet of polio. They have helped mothers learn about better nutrition practices for their infants and the way to prevent have helped mothers learn about better nutrition practices for their infants and the way to prevent diarrheal disease. And in Africa, they have worked to end the threat of Guinea worm disease. I traveled to Africa this spring and saw the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS. I am convinced, not only by the statistical evidence, but by tragic stories of individual human beings, that this disease is the most serious humanitarian crisis facing the world today. In sub-Saharan Africa, we also know that it is debilitating vast sectors of that region's economic and social infrastructure—by destroying its human capital.
According to recent estimates from the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), more than 34 million people around the world have been infected with HIV. Twenty-four million of these people are in Africa, where more than 14 million have already died.
Moreover, while the spread of HIV/AIDS has traditionally thought to have been a problem in urban areas of developing countries, UNAIDS and the Food and Agricultural Organization released a report just last week which demonstrates that HIV is spreading more rapidly in rural parts of the developing world—in communities that are least developed and least prepared to deal with it. Those also are the communities where the reach of the health system is the most tenuous, where communication and transportation and support systems are weakest, but where the presence of Peace Corps Volunteers is greatest.
But just as the monumental impact of HIV/AIDS is unprecedented, so, too, is the Peace Corps' response. Never before have we made a commitment to train every Volunteer on a continent, whether they are working in health, small business, water sanitation, agriculture, the environment, or education, to become partisans in the struggle against a disease.
This health crisis demands our attention not only because we have a moral obligation to help our friends in Africa, but also because the spread of HIV/AIDS is undermining social, economic, and human development in Africa. According to the International Labor Organization, by the year 2020, the workforces of countries such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, and others will be as much as 20 percent smaller than they would have been without the AIDS crisis, even after the growth in populations were taken into account.
Peace Corps Volunteers already are working on a variety of HIV/AIDS prevention projects across Africa. As of last year, about 450 Volunteers in 15 African countries were working on health projects, and most of those Volunteers were assigned to health projects with active HIV/AIDS prevention components. Our health Volunteers in Africa have helped train several thousand community health workers, traditional birth attendants, nurses, and teachers in HIV/AIDS prevention and care. This initiative will not, however, be confined only to Peace Corps Volunteers working on health projects. Instead, it will involve all Volunteers who are working in education, agriculture, or small business. For example, Janean Martin, a Volunteer in Tanzania, is working as a science teacher. She is one of the four Volunteers who are extending their service for an additional year so they can help implement the HIV initiative into the education sector of the Peace Corps program in Tanzania. Janean is teaching students about HIV/AIDS in her biology classes and establishing health clubs, which use the life skills curriculum to train girls about decision-making skills so they can make healthy choices about their lives. She also has organized empowerment conferences for girls from across Tanzania, which have dealt with reproductive health and HIV/AIDS issues. And the great thing is that she is doing all this wonderful work in Swahili, which is no small task. Janean stands as an example for other Volunteers to follow. She and many other Voluners have reached thousands of people in Africa, and we can take great pride in what our Volunteers aers have reached thousands of people in Africa, and we can take great pride in what our Volunteers are doing to help educate people about this disease. But we can and we will do more.
The Peace Corps HIV/AIDS initiative builds upon the presence of our Volunteers in the most remote areas of the developing world, the intimate knowledge they have of local customs and language, and their demonstrated success at grass-roots development. We know from what we already have accomplished that Volunteers can be effective change agents in the fight against HIV/AIDS. I believe this initiative will deepen not only our commitment to work with the people of Africa address this most serious issue, but it also will strengthen the ties of friendship and understanding that exists between Americans and Africans.
A few weeks ago, Janean Martin and her fellow Volunteers wrote a brief statement at a HIV/AIDS training session. It reads, "We know that the behavior change of an individual in a society where AIDS exists is a difficult and slow process, one which deals directly with personal feelings, like caring for one another, love, faith, family, friendship, respect for one another, and traditionÉ[But] people have proved that behavior change is possible, and it is the only way of saving ourselves and our community from AIDS."
I think Janean and her friends have it right. We owe them and all of our friends in Africa our full support in the battle against HIV/AIDS.
I thank all of you for your support for this initiative and look forward to working with you.

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