Two days remain before the end of this week's special United Nations General Assembly session on HIV/AIDS. One of the main goals of the meeting is to raise billions of dollars to fight the deadly disease, which has claimed more than 20 million lives worldwide, so far. So far, organizers of the U.N. event seem satisfied that their intended message is getting out.
United Nations and international public health officials estimate it would cost between $7 billion and $10 billion to bring the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic under control. The price tag includes the cost of prevention and treatment through existing health facilities around the globe.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that the Bush administration will seek $480 million next year to fight AIDS in the developing world -- twice as much as was spent this year.
Norway and Uganda also stepped forward to say they would contribute money to a global AIDS fund. "I think we may have come to a stage here where the difference between donors and recipient countries is fading away, and we maybe should put these terms in the dustbin of history," says Peter Piotis, the U.N. Secretary General for HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Piot cautioned that the real success or failure of the U.N. special session will be determined after delegates return to their home countries. "We have two choices after this special session," he said. "The first path leads to a world in which the tens of millions of people infected with HIV today will become a hundred million more in the future. That's not just a science fiction. That is what will happen if we continue business as usual, if we continue as we have [during] the first 20 years of this epidemic." The other choice is to try to turn the tide in the epidemic through greatly increased resources.
Gro Harlem Brundtland is director general of the World Health Organization. Dr. Brundtland hopes creation of a global AIDS fund will be a useful tool in raising the necessary money to fight HIV/AIDS. "There is not sufficient willingness to show solidarity across national borders," she said. "Now if we are able though a new fund for AIDS and health to overcome some of the weaknesses, at least in this burning area of HIV/AIDS, and also malaria and tuberculosis, it helps us at least tackle one major problem area."
The U.N. Special Session on HIV/AIDS adjourns on Wednesday.