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Strong leadership and additional funds are key to fighting AIDS, UN official says

Strong leadership and additional funds are key to fighting AIDS, UN official says

Vigorous leadership and additional resources are fundamental to successfully fighting the AIDS epidemic, according to a report released today by the agency coordinating United Nations efforts against the disease.

The report by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), entitled Together We Can, notes that the perseverance of visionary and courageous people is essential to successfully tackling the epidemic. "Some are high-powered political and religious leaders and international icons," the report says. "Others, less visible, have been no less effective in their actions as workers, students, business people, entertainers, politicians, community activists and village leaders."

Speaking at the report's launch in New York just days before the General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS, the agency's Executive Director, Dr. Peter Piot, said responses to the epidemic had shown humanity at its worst and its best. "Denial, blind panic and victim-blaming have been among the worst responses, but gradually courage, creativity and care have come to the fore," he said.

The report points out that while too many people still seek shelter in silence, the corrosive effects of secrecy and denial can be offset by the determination and courage of those who speak out.

On the subject of funding, Dr. Piot said, "We know what works, we know what to do, and the biggest challenge now is to find the resources to get the job done."

Dr. Piot observed that efforts to set up a global fund to fight AIDS - first proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan - could either focus on all the myriad obstacles ahead, "or we can say, 'okay we're going to solve one after the other and make sure that this becomes a reality - and operational - by the end of the year.'"

Worldwide, 36.1 million people are now estimated to be living with HIV or AIDS, according to the UN. Already, 21.8 million people around the world have died of the disease, including 4.3 million children. In 2000 alone, 5.3 million people were infected with HIV.

The General Assembly special session, to be held from 25 to 27 June, will bring together world leaders, activists, service and community organizations and the private sector in an effort to mobilize a greatly accelerated global response to the epidemic. Governments are expected to adopt a Declaration of Commitment setting out key targets in the fight against the epidemic.