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Former President Clinton asks nations to keep funding AIDS programs

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Bill Clinton on AIDS prevention
  • NEW: Clinton suggests how countries can help
  • He says lack of money will cause a calamity
  • The former president is attending the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria
  • Reports from vaccine tests are two to three months away, he says

(CNN) -- With the promise of coming AIDS vaccines, former President Bill Clinton urged the world's nations Monday not to give up on funding to prevent a calamity.

Overall support for global AIDS efforts from donor nations flattened amid last year's global economic crisis, according to a recent analysis of 2009 funding levels from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.

Clinton spoke with CNN's Becky Anderson at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria.

"If we all do this, the consequences will be calamitous and you'll spend more money later," Clinton said, referring to reduced donations. "You'll start having large numbers of people dying again, you'll have more political instability, more economic collapse, and it's going to cost us more money later. So it's not only going to be a humanitarian crisis. You'll pay now or pay later. So if it's at all possible, hang in there," he said.

After years of disappointment, researchers have finally found a potential basis for an HIV vaccine. Scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases say they have discovered three human antibodies that neutralize more than 90 percent of the current circulating HIV-1 strains.

"There is a preliminary indication that sometime in the next two to three months, we'll get some reports on vaccine tests, which are very hopeful for the quick development on a vaccine that actually works," Clinton said.

"Meanwhile, we know that if you start people on the medicine not when they have full-blown AIDS, but as soon as their so-called CD4 blood count drops below a certain amount, it can prevent 90 percent of AIDS," he said. "That's about as good as a vaccine. It's not 100 percent, but if we could just do that, this whole epidemic would be in a different place in five years."

Video: AIDS funding fears
  • Bill Clinton
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Africa

When asked about the affordability of such medicine in poor countries, Clinton said cost should not be an issue.

"In most places, the donors are providing this medicine," he said. "You should be able to get that help right now because I have negotiated great contracts for this medicine all over the world. And if you can't, you need to get in touch with us directly, and I'll try to make sure it happens, because in any poor country, people shouldn't have to pay anything for it."

HIV/AIDS is the world's leading infectious killer, according to the World Health Organization. The disease accounted for an estimated 2 million deaths in 2008, and more than 33 million people are living with the disease worldwide.

The researchers say the findings put them one step closer to their goal, and among their next steps are plans to make sure other people -- not just those infected with HIV -- can create these types of antibodies. They also want to figure out how to be able to potentially mass-produce more "broadly neutralizing" antibodies to block nearly all HIV strains in the future.

Clinton said the United States has increased contributions to AIDS programs, but not as much as hoped.

"It's not enough, but there are serious budget constraints in the congressional process," he said. "I think the president did what he thought was the best he could do."

Clinton said that money must be spent to "make good things happen. To give people a chance to live their dreams."

"We shouldn't be penny wise and pound foolish in an interdependent world where we worry all the time about terrorism, we worry all the time about violence," he said.

"When President Bush's and America's approval went way down all over the world because of the Iraq war," he said, "there were three places where it didn't go down: in India, where we made a deal for peaceful nuclear cooperation; in central and eastern Europe, where we continued my policy to expand NATO; and in the 10 countries of southern and eastern Africa where PEPFAR [the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] was concentrated and the highest AIDS rates were.

"Did they agree with President Bush's Iraq policy? No. ... They thought he and the United States cared whether their children lived or died."

Clinton said nations have many ways to help.

"I would like to see all the other countries that started their cutback a year before we did do the same kind of soul-searching and ask themselves what's going to happen," he said. "I also think that since the economy's coming back, it may be that everybody should consider making clear that over a two- to three-year period, they will give three years' worth of money. ... There's a thousand ways to work this out."