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US contribution to global anti-AIDS fund hailed by UN health agency

US contribution to global anti-AIDS fund hailed by UN health agency

The head of the United Nations health agency has welcomed the recent United States contribution of $200 million to a global fund aimed at fighting AIDS and other infectious diseases.

Addressing the opening of the World Health Assembly in Geneva on Monday, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, said by making the donation, US President George Bush had "signalled the importance of global health, and the importance of working with the United Nations as a partner."

WHO estimates that as much as $7 billion is needed from all sources annually to effectively combat AIDS in low- and middle-income countries, while another $3 billion would be required annually to drastically reduce the impact of tuberculosis and malaria.

The agency today expressed hope that the US announcement would give significant momentum to the development of the global fund, which was first proposed in April by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan at an African summit meeting in Abuja.

The timing of the US announcement has been widely hailed as propitious, because it precedes both the UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS, to be held in New York in June, and to the G-8 July summit, scheduled in Italy.

According to WHO, by the end of 2000, 36.1 million people were living with HIV or AIDS, and 21.8 million had died since the start of the epidemic. Last year alone, 3 million people died of AIDS-related causes and 5.3 million were newly-infected.

More than 500 million people are affected by malaria and 1 million -- mainly children -- die each year from the disease, WHO said.

The agency estimates the death toll from tuberculosis at around 2 million people each year, out of a total of 8 million contracting the disease annually.

The annual meeting of the World Health Assembly, which brings together officials from the health ministries of WHO's 191 Member States to discuss salient issues in their field, will run through 22 May.