It is time for the African-American community "to face the fact that AIDS has become a black disease" and find ways to defeat it, said the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NCAAP) at the international AIDS summit on Monday.
Julian Bond, Reverend Jesse Jackson and other major African-American leaders called on their own community to accept responsibility for ending the devastation of AIDS, which has claimed more than 200,000 black Americans since the epidemic began 25 years ago.
In a first for the political leaders, they blamed the disaster on a lack of will and pledged to do more.
"The story of AIDS in America is mostly one of a failure to lead and nowhere is this truer than in our black communities," NAACP chairman Bond said. "We have led successful responses to many other challenges in the past. Now is the time for us to face the fact that AIDS has become a black disease."
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-Americans account for half of all new cases of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It is the leading cause of death for black women between the ages of 25 to 34. Overall, blacks are seven times more likely to die from AIDS than other at-risk groups.
"Because of poverty, ignorance and prejudice, AIDS has been allowed to stalk and kill black America like a serial killer," Jackson said.
Jackson didn't make the conference, but issued a statement of support with the other leaders.
The US black delegation pledged to draft a five-year plan to reduce HIV rates among African-Americans and to boost the percentage of those who get tests and learn their HIV status.
The 16th annual AIDS summit opened on Monday with the double Bills of the global fight against AIDS -- Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former US president Bill Clinton.
Clinton irritated some delegates when he suggested that the Bush administration's call for abstinence to combat AIDS was not all bad.
Gates and Clinton both praised US President George W. Bush for his pledge of US$15 billion over five years to combat AIDS in 15 countries, noting it was the largest single pledge ever made to fight a disease.
The program, however, calls for at least 30 percent of the funding earmarked for prevention to go toward abstinence programs.
"An abstinence-only program is going to fail and in the end you're going to wind up being in a cruel fix," Clinton said. "On the other hand, I think if you want the benefit of that American money ... then it's a mistake to walk away from that message altogether. It's just that you can't do abstinence only."