A week before his trip to Africa, President Clinton signed a bill today that sets up a global trust fund for AIDS patients that has been likened to a kind of Marshall Plan against the infectious disease--the leading cause of death on the African continent.

The measure, signed in Lake Placid, where Clinton was celebrating his 54th birthday with his family, creates a World Bank AIDS Trust Fund to provide grants for AIDS prevention, care and education to countries hardest hit by the disease.

It also authorizes funding for the administration's fiscal 2001 initiatives to fight HIV and AIDS worldwide and strengthens the U.S. response to the pandemic that killed 2.8 million people across the globe last year.

The bill, which was passed by Congress last month, includes $300 million for the U.S. Agency for International Development to pay for education, voluntary testing and counseling, prevention of mother-to-child transmission and care for those living with HIV or AIDS.

"Fighting AIDS worldwide is not just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing. In our tightly connected world, infectious disease anywhere is a threat to public health everywhere," Clinton said in his weekly radio address. "AIDS threatens the economies of the poorest countries, the stability of friendly nations, the future of fragile democracies."

Clinton, who will travel to Nigeria and Tanzania, is directing Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers to begin negotiations with the World Bank to set up the trust fund.

The trust fund "represents an extraordinary effort to move with urgency to address the horrific AIDS epidemic," said Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), House sponsor of the bill. "It is our hope and expectation that the annual contribution from the U.S. will leverage enough contributions from other donors to increase several-fold the size of the trust fund."