Pubdate: Sat, 03 Jun 2006
Source: Alameda Times-Star, The (CA)
Copyright: 2006 ANG Newspapers
Author: Elizabeth Rosenthal, New York Times


U.N. Secretary General Urges Countries To 'Step Up' Before It's Too Late

UNITED NATIONS -- On the final day of a special session on the fight 
against HIV and AIDS, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan delivered a 
gloomy assessment, saying the world was losing the battle.

"The epidemic continues to outpace us," he told a jam-packed session 
of the General Assembly on Friday. "There are more new infections 
than ever before; more deaths than ever before; more women and girls 
infected than ever before."

Annan, who is from Ghana and has made fighting HIV a priority of his 
tenure, acknowledged some areas of progress since the last U.N. 
special session on AIDS in 2001: seven times as many people around 
the world now have access to treatment, he said, and in some African 
nations, the rate of infection is declining.

But he said that if countries "don't step up the fight drastically," 
the world would not be able to "reverse the tide."

The United Nations is expected to adopt a new action plan at the 
close of the conference this afternoon.

The dark tone of Annan's remarks diverged markedly from the upbeat 
speeches by world leaders at the start of the three-day session 
Wednesday, and from the positive speech given immediately before his 
remarks by Laura Bush, the first lady.

"This is a hopeful moment in the fight against AIDS," Mrs. Bush 
began. She noted that the administration of her husband, President 
Bush, began a program in 2003 to contribute a total of $15 billion 
over five years to the international fight against AIDS.

"The American people are on track to meet or exceed that commitment," she said.

Not enough, Annan -- the next speaker -- seemed to say, as Mrs. Bush 
listened from the front row. "This fight requires every president, 
every parliamentarian to say, 'AIDS stops with me,'" he said.

The United States, the host country for the special session, has been 
roundly criticized by AIDS activists around the world for dispatching 
Mrs. Bush as its representative at the session, rather than a senior 
administration official. France and Brazil sent their foreign 
ministers, for example, and many African presidents are in attendance.

Mrs. Bush's five-minute speech steered away from many of the 
criticisms that have been leveled against the United States' 
international AIDS policy, most notably that it seeks to promote 
sexual abstinence rather than scientifically proven approaches to 
stemming the spread of the virus, particularly condom use.

"The U.S. funds abstinence or abstinence-until-marriage 
Advertisementprograms that are ideologically driven and have nothing 
to do with reality," said Jodi Jacobson, president of the Center for 
Health and Gender Equality, an American advocacy group.

"In a lot of places, teenagers are sexually active and married women 
are getting infected from their husbands."

Jacobson noted at this week's session, American delegates pushed for 
the removal of phrases like "sex workers" or "men who have sex with 
men" from conference documents, preferring to refer to "vulnerable 
groups" instead.

The United States has sided with Syria and Yemen in refusing to talk 
about "the empowerment of girls," she said.

Mrs. Bush did not address such controversies.

She made passing reference to the official U.N. program for AIDS 
prevention -- known as ABC, short for Abstinence, Be-Faithful, and 
Condom use -- by noting that "Africa's ABC model has led to dramatic 
declines in HIV" in some countries.

Mrs. Bush also suggested the creation of an international HIV testing 
day, and spoke of the way that wider availability of anti-AIDS drugs 
allowed people with HIV "a second chance at life."

But the three U.N. officials who spoke after Mrs. Bush, including 
Annan, said that far too few people in Africa had access to such 
drugs, and the U.N. was desperately short of the money needed to 
improve the situation.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria, a war chest 
of money created after the 2001 conference, has helped more than 
500,000 people to receive lifesaving cocktails of antiviral drugs, a 
number that has grown by 40 percent in the last six months.

But the World Health Organization estimates as few as one in six 
people infected with HIV are able to get such drugs, because of the high cost.

The U.N. estimates it needs $18 billion to combat AIDS in 2007 and 
$22 billion in 2008. At present, it has commitments for less than 
half that amount, according to Dr. Richard Feachem, head of the Global Fund.

"Public and private funding needs to be greatly expanded," Feachem 
said. "Let all countries contribute fully, according to their means."
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