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UN Chief Calls for Leadership in Global AIDS Fight - 2004-07-11

UN Chief Kofi Annan has warned that stronger leadership is needed to fight the AIDS epidemic.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan told the 15th International AIDS Conference that world governments are falling short of goals they set to control the spread of HIV/AIDS. He warned that the epidemic is more than a health crisis, saying it is a threat to development.

Mr. Annan said leadership in tackling HIV/AIDS needs to come from the top of national governments. "We need leaders everywhere to demonstrate that speaking up about AIDS is a point of pride, not a source of shame," he said. "There must be no more sticking heads in the sand [hiding from the problem], no more embarrassment, no more hiding behind a veil of apathy."

Mr. Annan called for expansion of treatment and prevention programs. He emphasized the need to empower women, who make up an increasing proportion of people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

"Only when societies recognize that educating girls is not an option, but a necessity, will girls and young women be able to build the knowledge, the self-confidence, and the independence they need to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS," said Mr. Annan.

An estimated 15,000 delegates from 160 countries are attending the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia.

Thailand has won praise for its HIV-control programs. Best known is its program promoting condom use by commercial sex workers. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has won praise for his outspoken leadership on AIDS. But he cautioned that there is more to do.

"There is no time for complacency; no time to rest on our laurels. It would be a crime to let HIV continue to spread, while we already know how to interrupt it," said Mr. Shinawatra. "It would be an even greater crime to let people suffer from AIDS, without any access to treatment, while effective medicine is readily available."

More than seven million people in the Asia-Pacific region are living with HIV. The region accounts for one in four of the world's new HIV infections. Worldwide, 20 million people have died of AIDS since 1981.