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Laura Bush Proposes International AIDS Testing Day

The United States is calling for establishment of an international AIDS testing day as a means of controlling the spread of HIV. U.S. First Lady Laura Bush made the call in an address to a high-level U.N. AIDS conference.

Mrs. Bush reminded an audience of kings, presidents and prime ministers that, despite important victories in the battle against AIDS, much work remains.

She called on governments to improve literacy, and educate citizens to the dangers of the epidemic, and how the virus is transmitted. In the meantime, she urged world leaders to join in establishing an international HIV testing day.

"But life-saving treatment never reaches people, who don't know they're infected," she said. "So, another challenge is making sure more people know their HIV status. Here in the United States, June 27 is recognized as National HIV Testing Day. The United States will soon propose the designation of an International HIV Testing Day. I urge all member states to join us in support of this initiative."

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his address to the gathering, described AIDS as "the greatest challenge of our generation." He urged leaders to "step up the fight drastically," or risk missing the goal of halting and reversing the spread of AIDS by 2015.

"Friends, we know what it takes to turn the tide against this epidemic," he said. "It requires every president and prime minister, every parliamentarian and politician to decide and declare that "AIDS stops with me. AIDS stops with me." It requires real positive change that will give more power and confidence to women and girls, and transform relations between women and men at all levels of society."

Others addressing the day-long session include the presidents of Congo, Rwanda, the Central African Republic, Estonia and El Salvador, the king of Swaziland, as well as the prime ministers of Lesotho, Senegal, Ireland, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Tanzania, and more than 100 other government ministers.

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson told the meeting that negotiators working late into Friday morning had agreed on a political declaration that will serve as a blueprint for the AIDS fight.

U.N. AIDS Director Dr. Peter Piot called on delegates to swiftly approve the document.

"We must conclude this meeting with a resolve that the fight against AIDS will get as high a priority on national and global agendas as you give to promoting economic growth, or maintaining security," he said. "Nothing less will do, because AIDS is a long-term development crisis, not just a passing emergency that will disappear one fine day."

The final declaration calls for spending $23 billion a year on AIDS by 2010, something that would require many governments to dramatically increase their financial backing.

First Lady Laura Bush reiterated Washington's commitment Friday, noting that the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief provides $15 billion over the next five years. The plan, known by the acronym PEPFAR, is the largest international health initiative ever undertaken to battle a single disease.