Clinton mourns lives lost on #MH17, praises progress made on HIV

Ana P. Santos

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'We need to remind people that the people we lost on that plane gave their entire lives to the preposition that our common humanity matters a hell of a lot more than our interesting differences'

MELBOURNE, Australia – Former United States President and founder of the Clinton Foundation Bill Clinton addressed the International AIDS Conference 2014 on Wednesday, July 23, paying tribute to the colleagues lost on MH17.

Acknowledging their contribution to the progress that has been made in HIV research, prevention, and treatment, Clinton said: “I was overwhelmed today listening to the speech of the Dutch Foreign Minister. He took my breath away when he speculated what the last moments of those people must have been like.” 

“We need to remind people that the people we lost on that plane gave their entire lives to the preposition that our common humanity matters a hell of a lot more than our interesting differences,” said Clinton about the activists and experts who were traveling to the AIDS conference when the Malaysia Airlines plane was downed over Ukrainian air space on Thursday, July 18.

Progress and gaps

TRIBUTE. Clinton mourns lives lost on #MH17, praises progress made on HIV. Photo from the International AIDS Society.

Clinton praised the progress that has been made in HIV over the years, saying that when he started working on HIV in the early 2000s, the discussion was medication would be too expensive and only prevention was promoted. 

“We celebrate a very different reality,” said Clinton, citing that more than 13 million are now on live-saving, anti-retroviral therapy.

He added: “We are on a steady march to rid the world of AIDS. We have proven to ourselves and others that (ending AID) is possible, but we are here because we know how much more needs to be done”

Clinton pushed for the implementation of the new World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines to reach the goal of scaling up HIV interventions by 2020 and ending the epidemic by 2030. To achieve this goal, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS set a 90-90-90 target: 90% of people tested, 90% of people living with HIV on treatment, and 90% of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads.

He cited that keeping women in HIV care during breastfeeding period, testing all exposed infants, and immediately putting them on life saving treatment, is essential to ending HIV.

“We need to drastically reduce HIV transmission during breastfeeding period where as many 50% of new HIV pediatric infections occur,” said Clinton.

“We have the tools we need to stop HIV and AIDS. The AIDS-free world that so many of you worked so hard on is just beyond the horizon. We just need to step up the pace,” concluded Clinton.


Clinton had just started his speech when a group of protestors interrupted him. Carrying banners, the group chanted, “Clinton End AIDS with the RobinHood Tax.”

The protestors called for taxing Wall Street transactions and using the money generated to fund social causes like ending HIV and AIDS. 

The former president remained calm and later said, “This is more than a conference, this is a movement, that’s why everyone here has a voice.”


“I’m very pleased with President Clinton’s message. It was positive and sometimes we need some positive news. I think it gives a boost to the movement,” said JoThomson, a delegate from Australia.

Some people were also not so happy.

One delegate who declined to be named said that he was waiting for Clinton to make a stronger statement about the increasing prevalence of laws that criminalize HIV transmission and homosexuality.

Clinton spoke about how ending stigma was essential to ending HIV/AIDS, saying that “unbelievably after all those years is on the rise in some places,” but did not make mention of strategies to end it.

Since the conference started last Monday, July 15, punitive laws on HIV transmission and homosexuality have been extensively discussed as one the main barriers that drive key populations underground, preventing them from seeking HIV care and services. 

In a session yesterday, it was revealed that more than 2.7 billion people live in countries with laws that penalize HIV and globally one in 12 men have reported being arrested for being gay.

“We need people like him to say something strong and powerful about those laws,” said the delegate.

“There are some important points made, but I think the situations need to be flipped where sex workers, drug users, and transgenders – those who are left behind – take the stage to speak and be heard.  The parliamentarians and policymakers will be more of enablers,” said Janelle Fawkes, Chief Executive Officer at Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association.


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Ana P. Santos

Ana P. Santos is an investigative journalist who specializes in reporting on the intersections of gender, sexuality, and migrant worker rights.