Arguing that AIDS represents as grave a threat to international security as warfare, Vice President Gore pledged today to seek $150 million from Congress to combat the virus and other infectious diseases in Africa and Asia.
"AIDS is a global aggressor that must be defeated," said Gore, the first U.S. vice president to preside over a meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
Gore said the initiative, if approved by Congress, would bring America's contribution to fighting AIDS overseas to $325 million. The additional funding would be targeted primarily at sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 70 percent of the world's AIDS cases now occur.
The session was the first U.N. Security Council meeting ever to address a health issue. Gore warned that the AIDS epidemic, if allowed to spread at the current rate, will exact a death toll in the first decade of the 21st century that will rival all of the wars of the 20th century put together.
"While old threats still face our global community, there are new things under the sun," Gore said, "new forces arising that now or soon will challenge international order, raising issues of peace and war."
AIDS is already the leading killer in sub-Saharan Africa. In 1998, 200,000 people died from armed conflicts on the subcontinent, while AIDS caused about 2.2 million deaths.
"This is a new security front line," said Mark Malloch Brown, head of the U.N. Development Program. "Many times more people are being killed from the disease in sub-Saharan Africa each year than in the world's wars."
Health officials from several African states also warned that AIDS is overwhelming their national health budgets. "Africa has the least access to drugs but the greatest access to arms," said Libertine Amathila, Namibia's health minister.
Since the AIDS virus was identified in the early 1980s, about 50 million people worldwide have been infected and 16.3 million have died--13.7 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa, according to U.N. figures.
Each day, 11,000 Africans contract HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and now more than 23 million people on the subcontinent are infected. By contrast, there are fewer than a million people with HIV or AIDS in the United States.
Gore said the Clinton administration's request to Congress for the fiscal 2001 budget would provide $100 million for AIDS education, prevention and treatment programs, including $10 million to help care for the estimated 11 million children orphaned by AIDS and another $10 million for programs to stop discrimination against people with HIV.
U.S. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, who organized the Security Council debate, said the incidence of AIDS is rising among African soldiers and international peacekeepers on the continent. Alarmed by the development, the Clinton administration also would set aside $10 million for the U.S. military to educate African armies about AIDS.
While Africa now bears the brunt of the disease, U.S. officials predict that the epicenter of the virus will shift in coming decades to Asia, home to 60 percent of the world's population. According to some forecasts, India may lead the world in new infections by the end of the year.
The council debate provided an opportunity for Gore to counter criticism that he has backed efforts by American pharmaceutical companies to prevent African and Asian companies from producing low-cost versions of patented AIDS drugs.
The vice president also announced that the administration will ask Congress for $50 million to fund research, purchase and distribution of drugs to fight the developing world's other major killers--including malaria, hepatitis B, yellow fever and tuberculosis--which account for up to 8 million deaths each year. U.S. officials believe that an aggressive vaccine program could save 4 million lives a year.
CAPTION: At United Nations, Vice President Gore tells the Security Council of U.S. plans to boost funding to fight AIDS. Secretary General Kofi Annan listens.