While AIDS activists handed out condoms in city buses in Bangkok and dropped them from a helicopter in Pretoria, much of the attention of World AIDS Day focused on the children--11 million of whom have lost their parents.
"I have no idea of what my father looked like, what his voice or footsteps sounded like," Andrew Jackson Okrut of Uganda said at a U.N. symposium in New York, which was attended by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and about 300 other dignitaries and experts.
In a report released today, U.N. officials estimated that 11 million children have been orphaned by the pandemic, and that the number will reach 13 million by the end of next year.
It is almost unfathomable to think the suffering could increase in sub-Saharan Africa, home to 95 percent of AIDS orphans.
Eastern and southern Africa account for only 4.8 percent of the world's population, yet account for more than 50 percent of the 33.6 million people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The regions account for 60 percent of AIDS-related deaths, U.N. data shows.
Developed countries have largely ignored the orphans' plight. "Had they lived in wealthy parts of North America or Europe, their fate would already have been declared a human tragedy," said Namibia's Foreign Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab, who is president of the U.N. General Assembly.
In Nigeria, HIV is estimated to infect a new person every minute. By 2003, an estimated 4.9 million Nigerians aged 15-49 are expected to be infected with the virus, compared to about 2.6 million today, according to a Nigerian report released today.
With an estimated 1,700 Zimbabweans dying of AIDS-related sicknesses every week, President Robert Mugabe has pushed a 4 percent "AIDS levy" on personal income and corporate taxes that takes effect Jan. 1.
"This is a disaster devastating our society," Mugabe said. "We have to assist the many orphans who have been left behind."
Dr. Luc Montagnier, the French co-discoverer of the HIV virus, warned in Paris that an effective AIDS vaccine could be 30 years away unless governments encourage wider research.
CAPTION: A Thai student sets up a poster as part of an exhibition to mark World AIDS Day. A U.N. report estimates that 11 million children have been orphaned by the pandemic.