Annan issues global AIDS fund plea
ABUJA, Nigeria -- Africa's biggest-ever AIDS conference has opened in Nigeria with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan unveiling a five-point plan to fight the disease.
Annan called for a multi-million dollar global fund to be set up to fight AIDS. He said a "war chest" of $7billion to $10 billion was needed every year to reverse the spread of the disease.
He and former U.S. President Bill Clinton are key speakers at the conference in Nigeria's capital Abuja, which is being attended by African heads of state and health officials.
Nigeria is reeling under a relentless rise in AIDS-related deaths and illness. About 2.6 million Nigerians are HIV positive and at least 17 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have died from the disease.
HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS, has hit Africa hardest and become the continent's primary killer.
Current spending on AIDS in developing countries is around $1 billion annually. Annan said a minimum of $7 billion a year to fight the disease globally was a lot but represented just one percent of the world's annual military spending, Reuters reported.
"We just have to convince those with the power to spend -- public and private donors alike -- that this would be money well spent," he said. "We need to win their commitment for the long haul."
Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who discussed a global approach to the AIDS crisis with Annan last month, welcomed the call for a worldwide response and challenged world leaders, starting with U.S. President George W. Bush, to make "new and unprecedented financial commitments.
"The world can end AIDS, but only if wealthy countries increase their spending on AIDS in a dramatic way," he said in a statement on Thursday.
"Countries including the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and Germany all should come together to support the secretary-general's call to action. If they do not, the 36 million people infected with AIDS could soon become 136 million.
"If the wealthiest country in the world does not rise to this challenge AIDS will not be stopped," he said.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $126 million to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative -- and Gates said it would continue investing in a range of efforts.
The money will be used for education and AIDS awareness campaigns, HIV tests, condoms, drugs, scientific research and to improve health care systems, Annan said in a statement.
He also called on African leaders to break "the wall of silence and embarrassment that still surrounds this issue in too many African societies, and in removing the abuse, discrimination and stigma that still attach to those infected."
Annan was a key behind-the-scenes figure in the successful campaign to get major pharmaceutical companies to reduce prices for AIDS drugs in the least developed countries, especially in Africa.
But he warned that cheaper drugs alone would not provide the answer -- and may do more harm than good without proper health care.
African summit to tackle AIDS crisis
Organisation of African Unity
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