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Humanitarian group: AIDS could be worst crisis of all time

President of CARE USA Peter Bell
President of CARE USA Peter Bell

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AIDS (Disease)

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Monday marks the 15th anniversary of the first World AIDS Day, aimed at raising awareness about the deadly pandemic. Although awareness of the disease has been increasing, the numbers of infected and dead continue to rise.

CNN's Catherine Callaway sat down Sunday to discuss AIDS with Peter Bell, president of CARE USA, the American arm of CARE, a private, international organization fighting humanitarian problems around the world.

CALLAWAY: Where are we now in the fight against AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS?

BELL: I think it would have been hard for any of us to imagine how bad it would become and how bad it will be still. There are 40 million people today around the world who are infected. Eight thousand people will die today from AIDS. And by the end of this decade it's going to be even worse. It's likely that there will be 100 million people in the world who are infected with HIV.

CALLAWAY: How do American statistics compare with some of the other countries in the world in terms of controlling the disease?

BELL: We've done a good job in this country in terms of getting a hold of the disease. We have to remain ever vigilant. There's still lots of work to be done here. But compared with what's going on in Africa, we've done well here.

I feel this with all my heart and soul: This is the most devastating humanitarian crisis of our time and perhaps of all time. The AIDS pandemic in Africa is almost unimaginable; to think that a 15-year-old in South Africa has a 50-50 chance of eventually dying from causes related to AIDS.

CALLAWAY: What is CARE doing in Africa to help?

BELL: CARE is on the front lines. We are working on thousands and thousands of African communities to spread awareness about the disease, to educate people to prevent the spread of the disease, to try to take away the stigma that prevents people from acknowledging their symptoms and being tested.

CALLAWAY: Although, as you mentioned, America has done a good job with this disease, it will never be controlled, it will never be eradicated until a good job is done worldwide.

BELL: We're all dependent upon one another, that's absolutely true. And we hope that one day a vaccine will be discovered. Certainly scientists are working on it. But it's still some years away. In the meantime, it's important that we just mobilize all the resources possible. President Bush came up with an initiative in his State of the Union message last January -- for $15 billion over five years. And Congress has fallen short of that, provided that the Senate has approved a bill for $2.4 billion. We need to keep the pressure on -- all of us -- so that this country fully delivers on the president's commitment.

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