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US defends its spending on AIDS

September 24, 2003

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has defended the Bush Administration's efforts to combat AIDS, one day after a top United Nations official denounced as a "grotesque obscenity" the money spent on the "war on terrorism" compared with that devoted to halting the disease in Africa.

Mr Powell addressed the UN General Assembly on Monday as the World Health Organisation, a UN agency, declared the AIDS pandemic warranted a "global health emergency" designed to sharply reduce the number of people being infected and increase the number of people receiving potent antiviral drugs.

The UN AIDS Program (UNAIDS) also released a stinging report detailing the inadequacy of efforts to meet goals for preventing and treating HIV infections outlined two years ago after a special session of the General Assembly on AIDS.

Of the estimated 6 million people in developing countries infected with the AIDS virus, fewer than 300,000 are being treated. In sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the people who need treatment live, only 50,000 people are receiving treatment. Unless something dramatic is done, fewer than 1 million in the developing world will have access to proper drugs by the end of 2005.

At an AIDS conference in Nairobi on Sunday, Stephen Lewis, the UN's representative for AIDS in Africa, said "millions of children live traumatised, unstable lives, robbed not just of their parents, but of their childhoods and futures".

"How can this be happening, in the year 2003, when we can find over $200 billion to fight a war on terrorism, but we can't find the money to prevent children from living in terror?" Mr Lewis asked. "And when we can't find the money to provide the antiretroviral treatment for all of those who need such treatment in Africa?"

He added: "This double standard is the grotesque obscenity of the modern world."

In his speech, Mr Powell acknowledged that "AIDS is more devastating than any terrorist attack, any conflict or any weapon of mass destruction. It kills indiscriminately, and without mercy.

"As cruel as any tyrant, the virus can crush the human spirit. It is an insidious and relentless foe. AIDS shatters families, tears the fabric of societies, and undermines governments. AIDS can destroy countries and destabilise entire regions."

But Mr Powell said Washington was at the forefront of efforts to fight the disease. He noted that President George Bush had this year announced a $US15 billion ($22 billion), five-year plan for AIDS relief.

But AIDS activists have questioned how much of the promised money will materialise, and one group, Africa Action, said that under the US plan, most of the money for the $US15 billion emergency fund will not be requested until after 2005, and that in July Mr Bush asked Congress to limit AIDS funding this year.

The UNAIDS report says current world spending on AIDS remains less than half of what would be needed by 2005 to meet the goals set at the meeting, which included providing AIDS drugs to 3 million people by 2005.

The Washington Post


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