The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is launching a global campaign to combat the discrimination suffered by millions of HIV / AIDS victims. The Red Cross said the discrimination plays a role in spreading the disease.

The United Nations estimates 40 million people around the world are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Red Cross spokesman Denis McClean said many people who have the virus fail to seek treatment because they are afraid of being stigmatized. And this, he said, is fueling the spread of the disease.

"We estimate that about a half a million babies are born every year with the virus," he said. "And many of their mothers prefer not to have the HIV test or to collect the results or to act on them out of fear of being stigmatized and discriminated against by their families."

Mr. McClean says the consequences of stigmatization and discrimination are widespread. He says, in the worst cases, people with HIV / AIDS are killed. In others, they may be completely ostracized from their families or expelled from their communities. He says children who are orphaned by AIDS, but may themselves be free of the disease, often are denied education and food.

He said the campaign also is highlighting the fact that in many countries, millions of intravenous drug users do not have access to clean needles. "This means that they share their needles with other drug users, spreading the infection even further, and they also bring it home to their sexual partners. This problem needs to be addressed," he continued, "particularly in Eastern Europe where the fastest growing HIV / AIDS epidemic is taking place now, an increase of 426 percent in the last five years."

Mr. McClean said that in Eastern Europe, an estimated 500,000 drug users have contracted HIV.

But the most seriously affected region in the world is sub-Saharan Africa, where about 28 million people have HIV/AIDS. Mr. McClean said the Red Cross has just launched a special program to provide food assistance to those victimized by AIDS.