December 1st, 2011

BONO on “the beginning of the end of AIDS”

Today, Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Obama reaffirmed their commitments to the ONE campaign.  Bono and CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta discuss America’s leadership in the global fight against HIV/AIDS with CNN anchor Suzanne Malveaux; full transcript of the interview is below:

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NEWSROOM ANCHOR:  It’s been 30 years since the first documented cases of AIDS.  Since then we’ve gained momentum in the fight, but the threat that this killer virus poses is still very real.  Last year alone, HIV/AIDS took 1.8 million lives and another 2.7 million people were infected with the virus.  Today, on World AIDS Day, three U.S.presidents and rock star philanthropist, Bono are coming together to announce what they call “The Beginning of the End” of this disease.  Well, I’m joined now by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and the creator of “The One” campaign, Bono.  Thank you for joining us.  Sanjay, as much as we love you, we’re going to take Bono first on this one.


MALVEAUX:  Bono, obviously we all love your music.  I’m a fan, as many others, but you have done so much more to use your celebrity and music to fight this disease.  Your campaign now has set a new goal and the bar is pretty high to create this AIDS-free generation by 2015.  Tell us what that means.

BONO, ARTIST and ACTIVIST:  Well, we’re just talking about it.  What we are actually talking about when we say “The Beginning Of The End Of AIDS” is the sort of – is a mathematical point you get a point of inflection in the disease where it is possible to lower infection rates to lessen the people that you are treating.  It used to be for every one person you treated, two people became infected.  Now with a combination of getting people the drugs as soon as they are diagnosed, male circumcisions is another break through and getting pregnant women those drugs very early, you can actually cut those infections right down.

And begin the end of this disease and as I say it, it is really – I can’t even believe the words are coming out of my mouth.  Thirty years, 30 million funerals later, on the 30th anniversary, we just have the end in sight if people – if people want to go next leg and in these hard economic times, that’s going to be hard.

MALVEAUX:  How do you start that process?  Where does it begin?

BONO:  The process – well, I think you’ve got communicate to people what they’ve achieved.  The United States is leading on this.  And even though in Europe there – they have bigger development budgets as a percentage, on this disease theUnited States is way out in front in their leadership.

The United States has saved five million lives by getting them these drugs that were once thought impossible to get to rural areas in far-away places.  So first thing I think we start by thanking the American people and to tell them it is a tiny fragment of government spending.  For less than 1 percent of government spending, all development assistance comes through.  I think if they know that there’s value for money that lives are being transformed then I think they’ll go the next step.

MALVEAUX:  That is really great news.  That’s a great motivator when you think about that, kind of give yourself a pat on the back, how well things have been going.  You talk a lot about this battle against poverty and you raise millions of dollars with your one campaign.  Is there anything money can’t do that needs to be done to fight this disease?

BONO:  Yes.  We had at today’s meeting three presidents.  President Clinton was very keen in these tough economic times to talk about making sure that the money gets spent accurately and exactly and that we be doubly circumspect.

One reason I’m a supporter of the Global Fund is because they continually out themselves if they find corruption, and then demand that the host country pay them back.  Sometimes you’ll hear a little scandal about this, we like to hear.

We like the truth, even if it is ugly. It is hard to do this work, hard to spend the money sufficiently but we are doing it and the Global Fund charge I think – for RED, they don’t charge us anything.  Any RED products, you walk into an apple store today, all the Apple Stores are lit up or Starbucks, or you buy a Belvedere Vodka.  Coca-Cola came on board today, big iconic brand.  None of the money comes out of that.  They go straight to the people who need them to buy those precious life saving drugs.

MALVEAUX:  And we saw you.  You were with three presidents.  Last time I saw you with President Bush in 2007 at the G-8 summit and he is just one of the world leaders you pulled into this fight against aids.  How do you convince these world leaders?  What do you tell them when you sit down with them that this is an important cause?  Why do they even listen?

BONO:  Coming to a stadium near you.

GUPTA:  He’s very convincing.  I can tell you.  Just a few minutes with him.

BONO:  It’s not me they’re afraid of.  It is our audience and the U-2 audience is – they’re very smart, early adopters.  They’re noisy people and then it is the audience of voting age.  Because a lot of people – we’ve still got a very young audience in U-2.

And I think that that’s it.  And we tried not to be – to promote the left against the right or visa versa.  We work with both sides.  Think that helps that we’re not playing politics and we’ve had an amazing result with the one campaign and if you want to be a campaigner?

You want to really fight against the injustice of this stuff?  Get informed, get busy, join one.  If you’re too busy – people have very, very busy lives – you just want to help out with this pandemic or AIDS because it is destroyed so many life. Buy red stuff.  It’s Christmas, whatever it is.  GAP, go into the GAP Store and shake them down.

MALVEAUX:  Sanjay is one of those people obviously who’s got a ton on his plate.  We know how busy you are Sanjay, but tell us a little bit about the change here.  I mean, obviously, it was a generation of Americans, you and I grew up, you know, terrified of AIDS and this threat in theUnited States.  What do we see 30 years later?

GUPTA:  Well, you know, at one point – and President Clinton talked about this today – they thought that HIV/AIDS was solely aU.S. disease and then for a long time they thought it was only outside the United States in places like Africa.

Now in some ways they forget that it actually is in theUnited Statesas well as a disease overseas.  I think there’s been tremendous progress made.  In 2003, correct me if I’m wrong, Bono – a few hundred thousand people were probably getting treated.

BONO:  Globally, yes.

GUPTA:  Globally, around the world.  Few hundred thousand people, Suzanne.  Now it is six million.  So, I mean, that alone I think is – and I traveled all over the world.  I’ve seen some of the work that Bono’s foundation has done.

It is – at a time in Washington – Suzanne, you know this better than anybody else where it is very divisive, I think you would agree with me, this issue galvanized – President Bush was here, President Clinton, President Obama that was pretty remarkable.

BONO:  That’s what’s remarkable.  It might be the one thing they can all agree on.  And President Obama was keen to point out that if they can work across the aisle on this stuff, where – I can’t exaggerate what America has done.

This is the greatest act of heroism in my view sinceAmericajumped in the Second World War.  You saved personally,America, about five million lives.  This is gigantic and you’ve done it by working in concert left and right.

And I think that is at a time perhaps going into the holiday season when there’s just so much economic doom and gloom.  Just to remind yourselves that you are an incredible country and the things that you are capable of.

Outside in the world in Britain, you have a conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has raised his AIDS budget because he says we know we need cuts, but we’re not doing cuts that will cost lives.  This helps the world know who we are.

In Ireland, I’m sorry to say we kept our AIDS budget safe because we don’t want the budget to cost lives.  President Clinton again today was talking about the strategic aspect of that and dealing with the outside world, looking at it from the point of view of the military, from the point of view of business and commerce.

We want the world to know we care whether their children live or die or not.  If we have these technologies that can safe people’s children we must get it out to them and show them who we are, show them what we are for and against.

GUPTA:  And the attitude toward the United States, even in some pretty down times in the last several years have always remained positive in certain parts of the world including Africa.

BONO:  Yes, polling out of the top ten countries that – not the United States – eight out of the 10 are African proving the point.  I met President Bush in the oval office early on.  Paint these pills red, white and blue if you have to, but they’ll be the best advisement for the United States you’re ever going to get.

That has actually proved to be true.  President Bush, his PERFAR program was a turning point in the war on AIDS and now for President Obama to come in and finish it out shows just what can be accomplished in U.S. politics even at this dire time.

MALVEAUX:  Bono, is it true – I was on that trip to Africa with President Bush when he was promoting that program.  Is it true you took him aside in the oval office and you said as a man of faith that this is something that he should be a part of?

BONO:  You know, I will use everything at my means to talk people into doing the right thing.  And there are 2,013, I think it is, versus of scripture that talk about the world’s poor.

Christ only speaks of judgment once and it is not about your sexuality, it is not about your bad behavior.  It’s about how you treat the poor,  Matthew: 25.  I spoke to him and as a person of faith – it might be a bad example of it – to him who was a believer and he was moved by that because we’re so judgmental.

This is what happens.  This started in the United States in the gay community.  People didn’t want to go there, and the gay community had to be bold and they showed incredible leadership and said this is not just about us, you know.

This is affecting not just the rest ofAmericaand now it is affect being the rest of the world. And it’s worth, on World AIDS Day, to remember heroes of the domestic aids fights. You know, from – both from the gay community and the straight community, from regular folks to people like sports stars like Magic Johnson. Where would we be without Magic Johnson? Elizabeth Taylor is not around to see this day, amfAR. Those kinds of people. This is a really great day. If it is the beginning of the end of AIDS.


BONO: For it to be –

MALVEAUX: Sure. Go ahead.

BONO: I was just going to say, for it to be, the president’s words will have to be matched by the words of other presidents and then the actions of other countries following through.

MALVEAUX: And, Sanjay, what is the follow-up with you about that because Bono makes the point whether or not we are close. Are we close to a cure here?

GUPTA: You know, I think “cure” is not the word that you’re going to hear a lot in the scientific community, whether it be in the form of a vaccine or some other type of treatment.  But what you’re hearing is sort of a reemphasizing of what we now know works. For example, and these are now proven numbers. Anecdotally it’s been thought for some time that if you treat people adequately, you reduce the amount of virus in their body and they become less infectious, less likely to spread the disease.

We thought that to be true in the scientific community. Now we know it to be true. And that’s important and relevant, Suzanne, because that makes your focus continue to be on treatment and you can reduce infections – the efficacy of this is 96 percent. You think about that. So you treat somebody. That obviously has the benefit that you might expect.

But then you have all these other concordant benefits. That person is much less – exponentially less likely to infect other people. So – and the idea of the beginning of the end of AIDS, the idea of, you know, alleviating the earth of this scourge, probably treatment as prevention is the moniker you’re going to hear more than anything else nowadays.

MALVEAUX: All right.

BONO: Perfectly put.

GUPTA: Why thank you.

BONO: Yes. I just – I just – I’m always amazed at how Sanjay can make very complicated things very simple and understandable.

MALVEAUX: Very simple. And perhaps –

GUPTA: I learned from the best.

BONO: And that’s not an Irish trait.

MALVEAUX: Perhaps you can sing what Sanjay delivers. You know, I mean, it could all work very well, I think.

BONO: Thank you.

GUPTA: Thanks, Suzanne. Appreciate it.

MALVEAUX: All right, thank you very much, Bono. Thank you very much, Sanjay.