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Powell promises continued U.S. support in AIDS fight

Colin Powell assured the assembly that the United States is committed to fighting AIDS
Colin Powell assured the assembly that the United States is committed to fighting AIDS  

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, stating he knows "no enemy in war more insidious than AIDS," vowed Monday to a special United Nations session that the United States will continue to help finance the fight against AIDS.

"Last month President Bush announced a pledge of $200 million to jump-start the global fund -- a bold new public-private partnership to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria," Powell said.

"We hope this seed money will help generate billions more from donors all over the world, and more will come from the United States as we learn where our support can be most effective," he added.

The special session of the U.N. General Assembly convened Monday to address how to combat the spreading HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Watch Kofi Annan give his opening remarks to the U.N. AIDS Conference in New York (June 25)

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CNN's Richard Roth tells how and why the U.N. General Assembly is holding an unprecedented special session on AIDS (June 24)

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U.N. Special Envoy Stephen Lewis on fighting AIDS  
Living with the virus  
U.N. General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS  Schedule, documents and coverage
AIDS: 20 years of an epidemic  

More than 3,000 people, including heads of state, corporate leaders, political activists and health experts, gathered at the U.N. headquarters in New York for the three-day session.

Annan: No 'us' and 'them' in 'ruthless' war

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan addressed the assembly Monday morning, emphasizing the need for all nations to join in the fight against the deadly virus.

"Spending on the battle against AIDS in the developing world needs to rise to roughly five times its present level," Annan said. "The developing countries themselves are ready to provide their share ... but they cannot do it alone."

At an African summit meeting last April in Abuja, Nigeria, Annan proposed the creation of a global trust fund dedicated to the battle against HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.

"The war on AIDS will not be won without a war chest, of a size far beyond what is available so far," Annan said.

But of the $7 billion to $10 billion annually requested by Annan, only $528 million has been pledged so far. The United States has offered just more than $202 million.

UNAIDS, the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS, said that it will need at least $9.2 billion annually to fight AIDS in the developing world.

Annan stressed to the council that despite the calls for increased financial resources, it is important not to forget the human face of AIDS.

"Let us remember that every person who is infected, whatever the reason, is a fellow human being with human rights and human needs," Annan said.

"Let no one imagine that we can protect ourselves by building barriers between us and them -- for in the ruthless world of AIDS, there is no us and them," he added. Spurred on by Annan's call for leadership and action, delegations will plot strategies to stem the disease, which the United Nations estimates has killed 22 million people so far. By holding a special session, the United Nations hopes to galvanize the political commitment to the war on AIDS.

Although there was a Security Council meeting on the issue last year on the topic, this is the first time the General Assembly has met on a health issue.

More than 36 million people worldwide are infected with the AIDS-causing virus, HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region most devastated by AIDS, an estimated 25.3 million Africans are living with HIV, according to UNAIDS.

Annan photo
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged world leaders to band together to fight AIDS  

Infection rates are climbing in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, spread both by intravenous drug use and sexual contacts. AIDS has also had a profound impact on economic growth. By 2010, the United Nations says, gross domestic product in some of the hardest-hit countries may drop by 8 percent and per capita income may fall even faster.

Most of the 24 heads of state attending the session are from Africa, including leaders from six countries hit hard by AIDS -- Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.

African leaders, who already have pledged 15 percent of their national budgets to HIV/AIDS issues, have been outspoken on the need for aggressive action on AIDS.

"The moral leadership is coming from the southern African countries," a U.S. official told CNN.

AIDS activists said their top priority during the summit will be to get heads of state to donate more to the global fund, and they want nongovernmental institutions to have access to the money. They said they feel there must be a strong commitment to treatment -- however costly -- and prevention of the disease.

CNN Producer Ronni Berke contributed to this report



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