Annan Urges Greater Efforts Against AIDS
By Ellen Nakashima and David Brown
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 12, 2004; Page A10
BANGKOK, July 11 -- U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urged stronger leadership from the grass-roots level to the heads of government to reverse the global AIDS epidemic as he opened the 15th international conference on the disease Sunday night.
"AIDS is far more than a health crisis," Annan told a crowd of more than 17,000 cheering delegates. "It is a threat to development itself."
Annan said it was appropriate that the conference was being held in Asia, where one in four infections in the world occurred last year. "There is no time to lose if we are to prevent the epidemic in Asia from spinning out of control," he said.
Three years ago, the United Nations, during the first General Assembly session devoted to a disease, pledged to deliver the money and action needed to beat AIDS, he recalled.
Progress has been made, he said. "Significant new resources have been pledged" through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, he said, and most countries have adopted strategies to tackle the disease, "yet we are not doing nearly well enough."
The world is falling behind in reducing the scale and impact of the epidemic, he said, referring to the World Health Organization's goal of helping governments and organizations put 3 million people in poor countries on life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs by 2005. A U.N. report issued before the conference said 38 million people worldwide were estimated last year to have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
A top priority must be the training and recruitment of health care workers to support treatment and prevention programs, Annan said, including ensuring that infected health care workers have access to treatment. In many hard-hit countries, he said, "AIDS drives a cruel and vicious circle by striking at those who are most badly needed to fight the epidemic."
Annan noted that women account for about half of all adult infections; in sub-Saharan Africa they make up about 58 percent of cases. Among people younger than 24, girls and women make up nearly two-thirds of those living with HIV, he said.
Stronger leadership at every level is needed, he said, to stem the pandemic, which has killed 20 million people since 1981. "There must be no more sticking heads in the sand, no more embarrassment, no more hiding behind a veil of apathy," Annan said.
The meeting is taking place against a backdrop of tension over the role of the United States, the wealthiest and most powerful country, in the global AIDS fight. This year, the U.S. government sent one-quarter as many people to the conference as it did to the meeting two years ago in Barcelona. At that event, activists heckled Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. U.S. officials said the reduced delegation this year was a cost-saving move, not a snub.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
About 1,000 activists marched outside the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, urging broader access to cheaper drugs.
(Sakchai Lalit -- AP)
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