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Background: Targeting AIDS

A background report on the U.N. special session on AIDS in New York.

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    The special session on AIDS is the UN'S first ever devoted to a public health issue. It opened yesterday with the presentation of a memorial quilt to remember the 22 million who have died from the world's deadliest epidemic since the bubonic plague. Several African nations which have lost much of a generation to AIDS sent their heads of state.


    The future of our continent is bleak, to say the least, and the prospect of extinction of the entire population of a continent looms larger and larger.


    Developing countries, particularly the poorest– many of which are on the African continent, my continent– are also the countries least able to put into effect efficacious strategies to combat the pandemic.


    Thank you, Mr. President.


    The war on AIDS is a top issue for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. He warned that the crisis is not just Africa's.


    And now it is spreading with frightening speed in Eastern Europe, in Asia and in the Caribbean. Up to now, the world's response has not measured up to the challenge.


    To combat the global epidemic, Annan has called for an international fund of $7 to $10 billion. Today, Sweden, Great Britain, Nigeria and Zimbabwe were among several countries that committed to the fund. They join a list that includes Uganda, the Bill Gates Foundation, France, and the U.S. for a total of $700 million, still less than 10 percent of the goal. Yesterday, Secretary of State Powell promised the U.S. would increase its pledge of $200 million.

    But behind the scenes, disagreement over the details of the fund and other issues emerged: Who should control the global AIDS fund, and should it emphasize treatment or prevention? Several Islamic nations objected when a gay rights group sought to participate in a discussion panel. They were eventually outvoted. Muslim countries also opposed language in a draft UN document citing homosexuals, prostitutes and IV drug users as vulnerable populations.


    We must remain sensitive of each other's value system while pursuing our crusade against the pandemic. Let us continue to show respect to each other's culture, faith and value, tolerance, freedom of


    Noticeably absent at the UN, South African President Thabo Mbeki, who met with President Bush today in Washington. Mbeki in the past has questioned the link between HIV And AIDS, and critics say he's been slow to respond to his country's crisis.


    All I would say to that really is that people must look at what we're doing in south Africa, not their perception of what they think we are doing, but what we are doing actually in the country. And I don't think on the basis of facts an accusation like that can be sustained… Cannot.


    The AIDS pandemic in Africa is terrible, and our nation intends to do something about it. As a matter of fact, our nation is doing something about it. We provide more money than any nation in the world to fund a strategy to defeat AIDS, and we will continue to work with nations that can afford to put money into the trust to do so.


    Before the UN meeting ends tomorrow, delegates hope to breach their differences and adopt a blueprint for reversing the epidemic by 2015.

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