July 12, 2022

On this day: The speeches that inspired the formation of CHAI 

Former South African and US presidents Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton stand on stage after speaking at IAS 2002.

Speaking at the closing ceremonies of the 13th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain, on this day 20 years ago, former US President Bill Clinton and former South African President Nelson Mandela called on world leaders to ‘exert stronger leadership’ in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

As millions of people were dying every day due to the high cost of drugs, President Clinton urged the United States to underwrite the cost of AIDS prevention and treatment for countries that could not afford them. He saw the reduction in the cost of drugs as a solution to increase access to everyone, everywhere. He urged low- and middle-income countries to “pool together” resources, determine what they could afford, and “send the rest of us the bill for the difference.”

Former President Mandela declared that “AIDS is a war against humanity.” He urged strong global and national leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS. He emphasized the importance of HIV testing and providing antiretroviral (ARV) therapy for the millions of people who could not access them at the time. Most importantly, he reminded the world of the need for urgent action: “Unless we are able to follow what we say by doing something practical, our eloquence is less than useless.”

As the two former presidents stepped off the stage, Mandela asked Clinton to get ARVs to more people in Africa. Dr. Denzil Dougals, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis was also at the conference and asked for help in the Caribbean, where the epidemic was growing faster than in any region outside Africa.

This was the foundation upon which the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) was built. Shortly after, CHAI began the first negotiations to lower the price of HIV drugs. In the decades since, the organization’s pioneering work, together with critical efforts by governments and partners like PEPFAR and the Global Fund, has dramatically reduced the cost of treating HIV from over US$10,000 to under US$60 per person per year.

Watch the speeches