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Fighting AIDS

Global organizations mount new efforts to combat an old foe.

Speakers on World AIDS Day last month revealed new and ever-worsening statistics about HIV/AIDS, particularly as it affects much of the developing world. About 37 million adults and 2.5 million children around the globe now live with HIV, according to estimates from UNAIDS, the joint United Nations program on the scourge; 95% of them are in the developing world. Half of all people infected with the virus are less than 25 and die before they reach 35, and this year, 5 million more men, women, and children will become infected. Every day, 8,000 people die from AIDS. In hardest-hit South Africa, one in four adults have HIV.

Nelson Mandela; Copyright © 2004 Acumen Sciences, LLC, All Rights Reserved.Yet there were also new signs that the developed world is starting to mount a more coördinated response to the disease. The World Health Organization and UNAIDS announced a $5.5 billion program to provide 3 million HIV-infected people with the newest AIDS medicines by the end of 2005. The two also aim to mobilize the largest global effort ever to train and equip health care workers so they can administer these medicines. Coinciding with World AIDS Day, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson led an 80-person delegation on a six-day tour of AIDS-ravaged sub-Saharan Africa. The delegation included Richard Holbrooke, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and now president and CEO of the Global Business Coalition for HIV/AIDS. Mr. Holbrooke promised the business community would do more to help fight AIDS.

Unfortunately, AIDS policy in the developing world is still complicated by politics. The WHO program makes no mention of condom use or other precautions to stem the spread of HIV. This is a capitulation to some U.S. and African leaders who can be squeamish about such talk. But sometimes they can be more than squeamish. When Mr. Thompson visited Africa, for example, he was accompanied by finger-shakers from President George W. Bush’s coalition of “faith-based organizations.” Apparently they think AIDS would be nipped in the bud if people just stopped having sex. — Stephan Herrera


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