The United Nations AIDS organization has announced a new program aimed at reducing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

The program, funded entirely by private philanthropic groups, will establish clinics, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, to treat and counsel women of childbearing age.

The UN-AIDS organization says there are currently 20 million women of childbearing age who are infected with HIV and that, last year, 600,000 babies contracted the virus from their mothers.

Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, one of the main financial backers of the program, told reporters the overwhelming majority of those babies are in Africa. "There are 200 cases (mother-to-child transmission) a year in the United States, almost 600,000 in Africa," he said. "That is an obscene inequity. It is obscene because we know what to do."

The clinics will dispense drugs that prevent mother-to child transmission of HIV and also offer ongoing treatment to the infected mothers, thereby reducing the number of AIDS orphans.

The program is expected to cost about $100 million over a five year period and is separate from the U.N. global AIDS fund which now has about $1.6 billion in donations or pledges.