Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 6 News List

UN chief asks US to show leadership in fighting AIDS

REUTERS , LONDON

The US must lead the fight against AIDS with the same commitment it shows to financing the battles against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday.

"We hear a lot about weapons of mass destruction. We hear a lot about terrorism, and we are worried about weapons of mass destruction because of their potential to kill thousands of people," Annan said in an interview with the BBC.

"Here we have an epidemic that is killing millions. What is the response?" Annan said.

The UN chief called for the US to lead the world in devoting more funding to fighting the disease.

"We really do need leadership. America has the natural leadership capacity because of its resources, because of its size," Annan said, adding he had spoken to US President George W. Bush about funding the fight against AIDS.

"He's engaged and he was quite moved to hear people talk about it ... but of course now we need a step forward to put resources to it," Annan said.

The world puts substantial sums of money into fighting terrorism and containing weapons of mass destruction, Annan said. "And here we know [about AIDS], it's not that we don't know, we read about it, we see it around us -- where's the international solidarity?"

Annan was speaking on the sidelines of an international AIDS conference in Thailand which has focused on money, improving universal access to expensive drugs and wrangling over whether abstinence or condoms is the best way to prevent new infections.

The AIDS epidemic has already killed 20 million people worldwide and infected 38 million.

In 2003 Bush pledged US$15 billion over five years to fighting HIV/AIDS, much of it in the Caribbean and Africa, which accounts for 70 percent of global AIDS infections.

Annan said he was disappointed that sufficient funds had not materialized for a global AIDS fund which he had hoped would be able to spend $1 billion a year, with additional funds from the European Union and elsewhere.

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