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UN Anti-AIDS Program 'in Danger of Collapse,'  says Envoy

A U.N. special envoy on HIV/AIDS says the world body's anti-AIDS campaign is in danger of collapse because donor countries are unwilling to fund it. The envoy issued an urgent appeal to save the so-called '3 x 5' plan.

U.N. officials say the 3 x 5 plan - to put three million HIV-infected people into anti-retroviral treatment by 2005 - is the best chance in 20 years to turn the AIDS pandemic around.

But the secretary-general's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis says he has been astonished to find that expected support from donor countries has failed to materialize.

"So far - and we are into the third month of 2004 - donor governments have been unwilling to contribute the money," he said.

Mr. Lewis says the World Health Organization needs $200 million over the next two years to put 3 x 5 in place. He calls that a small sum, less than one-tenth of one percent of the cost of war and reconstruction in Afghanistan - and say he cannot understand why the money is not forthcoming.

"My reasoning is a vacuum. I've never understood it. It remains inexplicable to me to this day. I know only that we are forever counting the bodies and we cannot seem to rally the international community," he said.

Mr. Lewis says the very existence of the 3 x 5 program - a key feature of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's anti-AIDS campaign - is hanging in the balance.

"And I'm hoping in next few weeks that will change or, we won't make it, we just won't make it, and that will be a terrible blow to the U.N., and it will be a terrible blow to fighting the pandemic," he said.

The goal of having three million people in anti-retroviral treatment by the end of next year remains a distant dream. Mr. Lewis said at this time, 300,000 people are in treatment.

He said so far, only three countries - Britain, Spain and Sweden - have indicated a willingness to donate what he called modest sums to fund the program.