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Clinton marks AIDS Day with global research aid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- President Bill Clinton on Friday unveiled a $100 million plan to bolster AIDS research around the globe, citing grim statistics about the epidemic's devastating toll in Africa and its alarming spread through the former Soviet republics.

Like other world leaders, Clinton commemorated World AIDS Day with a call to arms, promising to do more before leaving office in January to combat a disease that has killed more than 20 million people in the last two decades, including 3 million people last year alone.

At a Washington AIDS clinic, Clinton listened intently to AIDS patients describe their fears and hopes for a cure. "Hang in there," Clinton told one man after touring the center and watching patients' exams.

Later, Clinton addressed religious leaders and AIDS activists at Washington's Howard University. He announced the release of the National Institutes of Health's first "strategic plan" for international AIDS research, boosting funding and training in more than 50 countries and helping poor nations deploy the latest drugs and prevention methods.

Clinton's plan calls for $100 million to be spent in the current fiscal year to support these overseas activities.

The epidemic's spread has slowed in the United States, and AIDS mortality rates have dropped more than 70 percent since 1995 as new drugs hit the market, the White House said.

Still, 40,000 Americans become infected each year with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS -- more than 110 a day -- and the number of new AIDS cases among women, minorities and adolescents is on the rise.

Worldwide, Clinton said, the disease is spreading with alarming speed, particularly in Africa and in the former Soviet republics. With 10,000 people infected each day, 3 million dying a year, and 36 million living with the disease around the world, Clinton said: "We must be humbled by how very far we all have to go."

Clinton touts his record on AIDS

Though criticized by some for not doing enough, Clinton, who leaves office on Jan. 20, used AIDS Day to tout his administration's record. Since 1993, it has more than doubled spending on AIDS research, prevention and treatment.

The United States is also the biggest bilateral donor of HIV/AIDS aid, investing $1 billion in 75 developing countries in the last decade on prevention, education and treatment efforts.

During his visit to the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, AIDS patient Michelle McKinzie thanked Clinton for his efforts, telling the president she was praying for a "miracle" that would cure her and millions of others.

"Good for you," Clinton said in response.

At Howard University, a tearful Belynda Dunn, who heads the National Association of People with AIDS, lamented the end of Clinton's term in office, saying she was "so afraid" about the future. "We're going to really miss you. You have been a life saver. We love you," she told the president.

"I'm not going anywhere," Clinton told Dunn. "I'll still be there for you."

The Rev. Winston Njongonkulu Ndugane of South Africa urged Clinton and other world leaders to do more, particularly in helping bring affordable AIDS drugs to Africa, where 25.3 million people live with HIV or AIDS out of 36.1 million cases worldwide, according to a U.N. report. More than 15 million Africans have died of AIDS-related diseases out of 20 million global deaths to date.

"We know we have to do more to help developing nations," said Clinton, who sees AIDS as a threat to global security, adding that he was particularly concerned about its spread in former Soviet republics.

Clinton said the United States should use "every available tool" in the fight. "We've got a long way to go," he said, but added: "We're only going to go forward, not backward."

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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Friday, December 1, 2000

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