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Time to turn the tide, Annan says as AIDS epidemic reaches 20-year mark

Time to turn the tide, Annan says as AIDS epidemic reaches 20-year mark

Two decades after the first cases of AIDS were officially reported, the international community is finally coming to grips with the crisis, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today as the world prepared to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the release, on 5 June 1981, of the earliest clinical evidence of the disease.

"At no time in the past 20 years in dealing with this growing catastrophe has there been such a sense of collective resolve and collective possibility," the Secretary-General stressed in a statement released at UN Headquarters in New York. "I believe this year will go down in history as the year we turned the tide."

In order to galvanize global awareness and "build a response that matches the challenge," the Secretary-General pledged his personal commitment to the fight against AIDS and called for "every sector of society to play its full part" in the battle.

Mr Annan said the upcoming General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS "will be a test for all of us who call ourselves the international community." He expressed confidence that by the time the session opens later this month, there would be "widespread" support for his proposed Global AIDS and Health Fund, which is open to contributions from both governments and private donors.

In a related development, on Saturday the Secretary-General hailed the annual AIDS Memorial Quilt March in Washington, D.C. as a "fine example of the kind of response we need across the world in facing HIV/AIDS."

In a message to the event, Mr. Annan underscored the devastating toll taken by the pandemic. "It is as though the population of five cities the size of Washington, D.C. had been wiped out in the space of a single year," he said.

Mr. Annan said the message of the AIDS Memorial Quilt March must reach delegates attending the special session. "It is essential that they hear people speak up about the virus and demand decisive action against it," he said.