The spreading epidemic of AIDS was recognized as having sufficient economic and political ramifications to require special discussions at the seven-nation industrial summit conference in Venice. This was a welcome and appropriate action, as was the recognition by the planners that greater international cooperation through the World Health Organization is required.

Paradoxically, this occurred at a time when the organization is facing the most serious fiscal crisis in its history.

This little publicized fact is due almost wholly to the failure of the United States to pay, as yet, its assessed obligations for 1986 and 1987. Only $10 million of the $61.7 million due in January 1986 has been received by the World Health Organization, and no funds have been made available to WHO in payment of the 1987 assessment, which was due Jan. 1. Facing a deficit that now exceeds more than $100 million, the World Health Organization has had no choice but to reduce both programs and staff.

In discussing initiatives to deal with AIDS, the president's position at the summit was an embarrassing and awkward one. The United States is the only industrialized country in default in its payments to WHO, and at the same time the United States has by far the most serious problem with AIDS. There is a universally acknowledged need for far more concerted and coordinated international activity, but the one organization that could provide necessary leadership is crippled by the default in payments by the United States.

It's too bad the president didn't take the opportunity offered by the summit to announce that the United States has made arrangements to meet in full its financial obligations to WHO before proceeding to discuss initiatives that the organization and the major industrialized countries might take.

DONALD A. HENDERSON, M.D.

Dean, The Johns Hopkins School

of Public Health

Baltimore

The writer led the World Health Organization's campaign to eradicate smallpox.