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Leaders Claim Success on World AIDS Day

Health activists around the globe are using Saturday's annual observance of World AIDS Day to focus attention on efforts to combat the pandemic.

The U.N.-sponsored Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria says it has provided drugs for nearly 1.5 million people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Thousands of people have gathered in Johannesburg where a benefit concert hosted by former South African President Nelson Mandela is underway.

Some 50,000 people are expected at the concert which features international artist such as Annie Lennox, Peter Gabriel and the Goo Goo Dolls. It is the fifth annual event hosted by Mr. Mandela to help fight AIDS.

In the United States, President Bush is urging lawmakers to approve his proposal to spend $30 billion over the next five years to fight the disease.

The president started a five-year, $15 billion-initiative in 2003 to provide life-saving drugs to AIDS patients in 120 countries, with an emphasis on 15 nations, mostly in Africa.

U.S. officials say the number of people receiving treatment in sub-Saharan countries has risen from 50,000 to 1.5 million.

During a World AIDS Day event Friday, Mr. Bush announced that he and his wife Laura will travel to sub-Saharan Africa early next year to get a first-hand look at U.S.-sponsored AIDS programs.

The head of UNAIDS, Peter Piot, said there is still a serious shortfall in resources for fighting the disease, and that those afflicted with AIDS continue to be stigmatized and suffer discrimination.

UNAIDS now says 32.7 million people were living with the virus in 2006 - nearly seven million fewer than previously estimated.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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