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

Officials from more than 100 countries are attending the 15th International AIDS Conference, which opened in the Thai capital Sunday. In his opening address, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is calling for government leadership to stem the epidemic and its threat to global development.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan Sunday told delegates at the 15th International AIDS Conference that the virus is no longer just a health crisis, but a threat to development, particularly in Asia.

In Bangkok, Mr. Annan called on political leaders to increase budgets and generate better partnerships within the wider community, to try to halt the spreading disease.

The United Nations says Asia and Eastern Europe are the new battlegrounds in the fight against the virus.

There are 7.4 million people in Asia living with the AIDS virus. Some 20 percent of all new infections are in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced in Bangkok Sunday that his government will spend an additional $250 million on AIDS programs in the region over the next five years. He called on regional governments to prevent what he called an "African style" tragedy from gripping Asia.

"What we don't want to see in our region is a situation emerge, as we have seen in parts of Africa, where very high percentages of the population have HIV," he said. "We have to try to stem the tide while we can."

There are 38 million people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Two-thirds of them are in Africa.

The United Nations says, in 2003, the world saw the largest jump in infections in the 23 years sine the illness was identified.

That news has given added emphasis to this week's global conference, which brings together scientists, medical experts, officials and activists, as well as respected leaders, including South African elder statesman Nelson Mandela.

Together, they are expected to press the global community to make greater efforts and provide more funds to fight the AIDS virus, which has claimed 20 million lives.