UNITED NATIONS -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday called for renewed leadership to tackle the global HIV and AIDS epidemic which has already claimed over 25 million lives worldwide.
In a message marking the 20th annual World AIDS Day, Ban called AIDS "a disease unlike any other," and stressed the need for strong leadership in a number of areas, saying that "without it, we will never get ahead of the epidemic."
While "tangible and remarkable" progress has been made in a number of areas, including reducing infections and providing care, he emphasized the need to do more on several fronts.
"It is our crucial mission to ensure that everyone can access HIV prevention, treatment, care and support," the UN chief said, recalling the pledge made by all governments last year to work towards universal access by 2010.
In addition, he called for renewed leadership in eradicating stigma associated with HIV, which he termed "the single biggest barrier to public action on AIDS" and one of the reasons why the epidemic continues to wreak its devastation around the world.
The secretary-general also emphasized the need for leadership among governments in fully understanding the epidemic, so that resources go where they are most needed.
He also pledged to ensure that the United Nations becomes a model in responding to the virus.
"As secretary general, I am determined to lead the UN family in this endeavor -- to ensure that we prioritize action on AIDS, to encourage member states to keep the issue high on national and international agendas, and to work to make the United Nations a model of how the workplace should respond to AIDS," Ban said.
World AIDS Day, which falls on Dec. 1, aims to raise awareness of the global AIDS epidemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. This year's theme is leadership, which highlights the need for innovation, vision and perseverance in the face of the AIDS challenge.