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AIDS not just a compelling humanitarian issue

THE ACCELERATING spread of the HIV virus worldwide threatens millions of people on all continents. 42 million people are already infected. An estimated 8,500 men, women, and children die every day. That means 18 more people by the time you finish reading this column.
Without concerted action, an additional 45 million will be infected by 2010, due to predicted epidemics in eastern Europe and central Asia, among other areas.

THE ACCELERATING spread of the HIV virus worldwide threatens millions of people on all continents. 42 million people are already infected. An estimated 8,500 men, women, and children die every day. That means 18 more people by the time you finish reading this column.

Without concerted action, an additional 45 million will be infected by 2010, due to predicted epidemics in eastern Europe and central Asia, among other areas. According to the UN, World Bank, and other experts, HIV/AIDS is spreading faster in parts of Europe and Eurasia than in any other region - including Africa. HIV/AIDS is not just a compelling humanitarian issue. It tears apart social fabrics and robs young democracies of the citizens they need to build freer, better futures. It deprives nations of the human resources they need to develop, sapping global growth. Unchecked, HIV/AIDS can threaten whole countries and destabilize entire regions. No nation is protected by geography or by political, social, or religious association. Global trade and tourism tie us together inextricably. We are all vulnerable.

Combating this disease is a national security priority for the United States. President Bush has committed the U.S. to provide $15 billion for an Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. We are working multilaterally through the UN, WHO, and as the single largest donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria.

We are also working bilaterally in over 75 countries, including countries in Europe and central Asia, to save lives by preventing new infections and helping communities cope with the existing burden of disease. Europe has joined us in this fight, as evidenced by European governments' own efforts and their generous contributions to the Global Fund. Yet more can be done. We must all work ever more closely and enlist non-government actors and the private sector. We must use our limited resources effectively and with compassion. And we must not be complacent about the fight against AIDS on our own continents. Like all great evils, AIDS feeds on ignorance and fear. Experience has shown that when government and social leaders speak out and support programmes to educate people about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, the disease can be controlled. The time to speak out is now, while we still have time to educate and prevent AIDS' devastation to our societies, our economies, and our lives.


(The author is the US Ambassador to Slovakia)

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