Britain is hosting the first meeting of its international Commission for Africa, which aims to help the continent overcome the scourges of poverty, underdevelopment and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. British Prime Minister Tony Blair intends for the commission to lay the groundwork for the world's eight biggest economic powers to help tackle Africa's problems. The goal is to have a plan ready for funding by the middle of next year.

Mr. Blair made his first appeal for more attention on Africa in a speech in 2001.

"The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world," he said. "But if the world as a community focused on it, we could heal it."

Britain's foreign aid secretary, Hilary Benn, has laid out some of the challenges the commission will examine.

"Africa is the only continent in the world that's gotten poorer in the last generation," reminded Hilary Benn. "It's also a continent of great potential. So it's about building political commitment to do the things necessary to help Africa's future, giving more aid, enabling Africa to trade and earn its way out of poverty, and tackle the HIV/AIDS crisis."

The commission's formation comes on the 20th anniversary of the Ethiopian famine that inspired rock musician Bob Geldof to organize the "Live Aid" and "Band Aid" charity concerts. Mr. Geldof is a member of the Commission for Africa. He told British radio the West has self-interest in Africa's recovery.

"It is the sole continent in decline, and it is complicit in its own decline," he said. "We have to constantly make efforts to stop that happening. The danger to us, never mind them, is immense."

The London conference is bringing together 17 delegates from eight African countries, as well as Canada, France and the United States.

They expect to agree on themes for the project to include ways to resolve conflicts, keep the peace, stimulate economic growth and improve governance.

The commission is due to present its findings in July of next year when Britain chairs the G8 summit of leading industrial nations.