Remarks at a Panel Discussion on AIDS Research and Treatment

 

July 23, 1987

 

Well, I thank you all very much. As you know, generally, when I talk to a group like this, I open with a joke or two to put all of us at ease and get things rolling, and I hope you'll forgive me if I skip that today. I've just come from the ward you have here for children who have AIDS. And let me just make a promise to those children and all others who have contracted this disease: We will -- I will do all that God gives us the power to do to find a cure for AIDS. We'll not stop, we'll not rest, until we've sent AIDS the way of smallpox and polio.

 

Those are words of resolve, and now I'd like to add a few words of hope. One of the amazing stories of modern medicine is the progress that we've already made against AIDS. I know this is old news to you in this room. So many of the breakthroughs were achieved right here in this building. But for our friends in the press, I thought I should put the speed of progress in perspective. Just think that the day I was sworn in as President we didn't even know that AIDS existed. It wasn't until 5 months later that the disease was discovered. But only 3 years after that, in a laboratory on this campus, Dr. Robert Gallo isolated the AIDS virus. This was, of course, at about the same time, as is often the case, similar work was being done by Dr. Luc Montagnier at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Within a year, a blood test was available.

 

And now a treatment drug, AZT, is also on the market -- also developed here in this building by Dr. Sam Broder, whom I met earlier this afternoon. Dr. Broder told me, by the way, that more progress is coming. He mentioned work on a number of new and promising drugs for treating AIDS. And I understand that a vaccine will soon go into testing. As these drugs and vaccines come along, I'm determined that redtape will not keep them away from those in need. We will make certain that they get the same kind of accelerated review from the Food and Drug Administration that got the AZT application approved in only 4 months -- record time.

 

I know that everyone here understands how dazzling the progress against AIDS has been. It took 40 years of study to learn as much about polio. It took 19 years to develop a vaccine against hepatitis B. To keep up the momentum, this year the Federal Government will spend $317 million on AIDS research and development and $845 million overall, and next year we'll spend 30 percent more on research and $1.26 billion overall. Spending on AIDS has been one of the fastest growing areas of the Federal budget. The limits on research progress today are not the limits of spending but of the scientific process itself. Growing cultures, monitoring the spread of infection, conducting tests -- all of this takes time.

 

Today we're taking another big step against AIDS. This morning at the White House we announced the members of the Presidential Commission on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Epidemic. Dr. Eugene Mayberry, the chief executive officer of the Mayo Clinic, is Chairman of the Commission, the members of which are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and points of view. And I say Dr. Mayberry ``is'' Chairman, not ``will be'' Chairman, because not only did we announce the Commission's membership today, but today is also the Commission's first day of work. They're wasting no time. And in fact, talk about speed, Dr. Mayberry will present the Commission's first report to me in 90 days.

 

Dr. Mayberry and his colleagues will recommend a full-fledged strategy for battling AIDS. We already have a research strategy for finding a cure. The Commission will be reviewing not only that but also looking at questions of treatment and prevention: How can we most compassionately care for those who have AIDS? How can we most justly and effectively protect the public from the spread of AIDS?

 

What we need right now in the battle against AIDS is a good strong dose of common sense. It seems to me common sense to recognize that, when it comes to stopping the spread of AIDS, medicine and morality teach the same lessons. It's also common sense that ignorance about the extent of the spread of AIDS won't help anyone -- those who have it, those who might get it, those who are looking for ways of preventing its spread. This is why I called recently for certain kinds of testing. I hope the Commission will help us all put aside our suspicions and work together with common sense against this common threat.

 

I wish I could say that the vast amounts of money and effort that we're putting into AIDS research will give us a cure in a week or a year or by an absolutely certain date. The truth is, none of us knows for certain just when a cure will come. It might not be until the late 1990's. It might not be until later. That's why prevention and treatment are so important now. But in the spirit of hope, let's not forget, a cure might possibly arrive much sooner.

 

A few weeks ago I was reading about another field of astonishingly rapid scientific progress -- not in medicine but in physics. Despite all the advances of the last year, in what has become known as the phenomenon of superconductivity, one problem was said to be years from solving: that of finding material that could handle what I, as a layman, would call large amounts of electricity. Well, the next week, another report appeared announcing that the problem had been solved. What some said would be years in coming happened just one week later. I don't know if the day will come when such progress will be in the cards for AIDS research, but that's my hope. And after the visit to the ward today and after the death by AIDS of friends and former associates, this is my prayer: One way or another, whether by breakthrough or steady progress, we will beat this disease.

 

And now let me turn the meeting over to Secretary Bowen.

 

[At this point, Secretary of Health and Human Services Otis R. Bowen; James B. Wyngaarden, Director of the National Institutes of Health; and Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addressed the panel]

 

Well, thank you, Dr. Bowen and Dr. Wyngaarden and Dr. Fauci. And Dr. Davis there was most helpful in our assembling this Commission and these people here who I have confidence are going to do such a job for us. By the way, I thought you'd all like to know that, near as I can determine, Dr. Bowen is only the seventh physician to serve in the Cabinet from George Washington's time to the present. [Laughter.]

 

As I was listening to the panel and going on a tour today, I couldn't help remembering something that W.H. Auden said, that the true men of action in our times are not politicians or statesmen but scientists. Dr. Mayberry and the Commission will be working with you and many others to chart the Nation's course against this disease. I believe that when the medical history of our times is written you and they will go down as among our greatest men and women of action.

 

Well, I thank you all, and God bless you all.

 

Note: The President spoke at 1:49 p.m. to members of the Presidential Commission on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Epidemic and public health officials in the auditorium at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD.