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Feature: UN faces blizzard of bleak AIDS statistics
( 2003-09-23 16:40) (Agencies)

Despite more money and a myriad of programs, most nations are unable, unwilling or too impoverished to provide treatment or prevention plans that could reverse the AIDS pandemic by 2015, UN officials said.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan speaks at the opening of the 58th U.N. General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sept. 22, 2003.  [Reuters]
At an all-day conference on Monday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said new reports from 103 government delivered a series of bleak statistics, showing action fell "far short of what is needed."

Some 136 delegates, including heads of state and foreign ministers addressed the General Assembly, with representatives from Chile, Benin and others speaking well after midnight.

Dr. Peter Piot, head of UNAIDS, which coordinates programs among UN agencies, told a news conference, said "there isn't a single A in the report card."

World leaders at a special General Assembly session on AIDS in June 2001 pledged to halt and reverse by 2015 the pandemic that has cost 28 million lives, 3.1 million last year alone.

But Piot estimated there would be 45 million new infections by 2010 and emphasized denial was still a problem because of the disease's transmission through sexual intercourse.

One goal was to ensure by 2005 that at least 80 percent of pregnant woman have information, counseling and drugs to prevent transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But such services hardly exist in countries that need them most, the new report card showed.

"The pandemic is galloping out of control," said Richard Feachem, head of the Global Fund to combat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, set up by the United Nations and leading industrial nations two years ago.

Funds for AIDS spending in the last two years have increased 20 percent to $4.7 billion in low and middle-income countries, with 57 percent from foreign sources.

But Piot said $10 billion was needed by 1995 if the disease were to be reversed.


In an attempt to make a dent in the statistics, the World Health Organization wants to provide drugs to 3 million people, most of them in Africa by the end of 2005. About 6 million people of the 42 million infected worldwide have full-blown AIDS symptoms.

If successful, the WHO plan would be close to four times the total covered by existing programs.

WHO Director-General Dr Lee Jong-Wook called on the world to make AIDS a global emergency, to be tackled with the same urgency as flood, earthquakes + and the SARS outbreak.

The agency intends to send teams to various countries to assess what kind of treatment plan is needed and then use its own funds and appeal for others to get programs started.

Brazil, which for the past decade had the world's most successful AIDS treatment program among developing nations, has discovered poor patients are better at following pill regimens than Americans and Europeans. Studies in Africa have produced the same results.

But an official of the World Food Program said the discussion on AIDS focused on medical solutions and drugs to the exclusion of everything else.

"We have to find a way to look after those who are already infected, whose lives are falling apart and whose ability to be productive is really in doubt," said Trevor Rowe.

"They need assistance. They have to be part of the debate. They need nutrition. If they have medicine they need food as well," he said.

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