I'm really delighted to be here. We in this room come from a variety of different backgrounds and perspectives, but we share a common conviction that prosperity can only come to the poor regions of the world when business, governments, NGOs, all sorts of organizations can work together better than they have historically.
I was struck by the First Lady's comment about governments working with different organizations; she used the term "variable geometry." And it's clear that that's what we're going to have to see more of. I want to tell you about a specific project that Bristol-Myers Squibb has been involved in as an example of public-private partnerships.
We're committed to working together. Our company's mission is to extend and enhance human life. We engage in businesses to do that and we try to do that better than our competitors. And in so doing we hope to increase values for everybody - community, employees and shareholders. We started the Secure the Future program about a year ago to address the problem of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. And my focus this evening is going to be on that.
Just a few days ago I gave a commencement address at a mid-western university, and since this is called University for a Night, you might consider this my second commencement speech in the last four days. The theme of my remarks in the midwest was leadership. Specifically the importance of setting the right example and, in addition to individuals, those comments apply to organizations, including companies like my own.
Bristol-Meyers Squibb strives to be a leader in the health care field by making medicines for some of the world's most serious diseases: heart disease, cancer, and AIDS. We spend billions of dollars every year on cutting-edge research for the next generation of cures.
A year and a half ago, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan came to me with a proposal for a different and unique kind of leadership role for Bristol-Myers Squibb - to help fight AIDS in Africa. A leadership role that would set an important example by bringing diverse people and organizations together to battle one of the worst scourges in the history of mankind.
The challenges were and are enormous. Obviously the scope of the epidemic is devastating. Any wide-ranging effort would face daunting political, social, and logistical hurdles and our own has. But the Secretary-General knew a crisis like AIDS in Africa required bold thinking and new approaches.
The result was that last spring we launched Secure the Future as a commitment of one hundred million dollars over five years with a focus on the future for women and children in five southern African countries - South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland - areas where HIV/AIDS has been particularly devastating. But the lessons that we're getting from Secure the Future are intended to have wider applicability to other regions of the world where resources are also limited and we're making our experience known to all comers.
Our program has two main objectives. The first is to spur critical research, including research on the type of HIV that's endemic in southern Africa and elsewhere in the developing world; research focused on the development of local initiatives, particularly to stop the transmission of AIDS from pregnant women to their babies.
The second objective is to help sustain and expand the health care delivery social and educational infrastructure assisting these societies and managing the crisis. Governments, local NGOs and international organizations are all key partners in this effort. In fact, their members make up the various advisory boards that oversee the program. What unites them is a commitment to finding sustainable approaches, not stop-gap measures to deal with the crisis. Not that long ago, the private, public and nonprofit sectors often pursued separate agendas in the developing world, and occasionally worked at cross purposes. Meanwhile, the poor grew poorer and the march of death and disease in those regions intensified.
Fortunately, we've learned as we've gone along. We made mistakes as we started this, we've learned from those mistakes and now we see the programs starting to take hold. If anything, Secure the Future demonstrates the moral imperative that we must all work together to fight disease and spur development. And based on our experience, I'm hopeful about our prospects for improving the public health situation in the areas where we're operating. I look forward to more discussion.