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Clinton, Mandela Pledge to Join AIDS Fight at Barcelona Conference - 2002-07-12

Former U.S. President Clinton says he and former South African President Nelson Mandela are launching an effort to organize other world leaders to join the fight against AIDS. The two closed the International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, which was the largest of the 14 held so far, and the most politically well attended.

Mr. Clinton noted U.N. predictions that the present 40-million HIV cases globally would grow to 100-million by 2010, and called AIDS a threat to world security.

"A hundred-million AIDS cases means more terror, more mercenaries, more war, destruction, and the failure of fragile democracies," he said. "We cannot lose the war on AIDS and win our battles to reduce poverty, promote stability, advance democracy, and increase peace and prosperity."

The former U.S. leader said he and Nelson Mandela have agreed to work together to launch a World Leaders AIDS Action Network to bring attention and resources to regions hardest hit by HIV. He said the new group would also include the six other current and former national leaders who attended the AIDS conference, and any other leaders they could persuade to join.

In the debate over financing the AIDS battle, Mr. Clinton urged developing countries to determine how much they can afford to pay to fight AIDS, and then send the rich countries the bill for the rest. The wealthy countries, he said, must figure out how much the owe to pay the bulk of the $10-billion the United Nations says is required for the campaign.

He said the United States should contribute more.

"Since we are spending about $800-million a year now, we owe a little less than $2 billion more, or less than two months of the Afghan war, less than three percent of the requested increases for defense and homeland defense in the current budget," Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Mandela focused on what he called the enormous tragedy of the world's 13-million AIDS orphans, most of whom are in Africa and whom he said would be subjected to abuse, discrimination, and loss of inheritance. The former South African leader said they are orphans because their parents could not afford the necessary drugs.

"We must find ways and means to make life-saving treatment available to all who need it. If parents with AIDS can be given a few more years, then their children will be given a much better opportunity for nurturing, survival, and development," Mr. Mandela said.

The call for cheaper AIDS drugs was a dominant theme of the Barcelona conference, which was noted for a groundswell in favor of placing the burden of the cost of AIDS with the wealthy countries and pharmaceutical companies.

The attendance of the meeting reflected a growing political awareness about HIV. Conference organizers say more political leaders and high-level government delegations attended this year than ever. Whether their presence influences the level of government involvement around the world should be known by the next AIDS conference in Bangkok in 2004.