President Obama today signed into law the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009. Here are some of the comments he made during the signing ceremony:
“We often speak about AIDS as if it’s going on somewhere else. And for good reason — this is a virus that has touched lives and decimated communities around the world, particularly in Africa. But often overlooked is the fact that we face a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic of our own — right here in Washington, D.C., and right here in the United States of America. And today, we are taking two important steps forward in the fight that we face here at home.
“It has been nearly three decades since this virus first became known. But for years, we refused to recognize it for what it was. It was coined a “gay disease.” Those who had it were viewed with suspicion. There was a sense among some that people afflicted by AIDS somehow deserved their fate and that it was acceptable for our nation to look the other way.
“A number of events and advances over the years have broadened our understanding of this cruel illness. One of them came in 1984, when a 13-year-old boy from central Indiana contracted HIV/AIDS from a transfusion. Doctors assured people that Ryan White posed no risk to his classmates or his community. But ignorance was still widespread. People didn’t yet understand or believe that the virus couldn’t be spread by casual contact. Parents protested Ryan’s attendance in class. Some even pulled their kids out of school. Things got so bad that the White family had to ultimately move to another town.
“It would have been easy for Ryan and his family to stay quiet and to fight the illness in private. But what Ryan showed was the same courage and strength that so many HIV-positive activists have shown over the years and shown around — show around the world today. And because he did, we didn’t just become more informed about HIV/AIDS, we began to take action to fight it.