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In Washington, Annan urges business leaders to join fight against HIV/AIDS

In Washington, Annan urges business leaders to join fight against HIV/AIDS

Addressing a large group of United States business leaders gathered in Washington D.C. today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged them to join the global fight against the AIDS pandemic, stressing that by getting involved they would safeguard their own interests while helping humanity.

"Even though AIDS poses a huge economic threat, it is first and foremost a humanitarian imperative," Mr. Annan told members of the US Chamber of Commerce during a breakfast meeting. "In fact, there is a happy convergence between what your shareholders pay you for, and what is best for millions of people the world over."

Stressing that the spread of AIDS causes costs to rise and markets to shrink, he said, "The business community needs to get involved to protect its bottom line."

The Secretary-General detailed the negative effects of the pandemic, pointing out that by 2005, AIDS would strike a combined 10 million people in China and India - "two of America's largest export markets and sources of supply." Looking to the broader implications of the spread of the disease, he cited a CIA report which found that the burden of infectious diseases will add to political instability and slow democratic development in Sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia, and the former Soviet Union. "That is certainly not good for business," he said.

Outlining how corporate action can fight the epidemic, Mr. Annan called on those present with employees in the developing world to implement effective AIDS policies. "Programmes to educate your work force about HIV can become a corner stone of our global prevention campaign," he said.

Beyond contributing through the workforce, the Secretary-General said businesses can serve as advocates for change by speaking about the AIDS epidemic and what can be done to stop it. "Silence and stigma drive the virus underground and fuel its spread," he said. "Speaking up helps to halt it."

The Secretary-General also pointed out that businesses could help to stop the spread of AIDS by donating money to the Global AIDS and Health Fund, which he proposed earlier this year as a means of supporting national programmes and strategies. Citing a Harvard University estimate that AIDS has already cost the world more than $500 billion, he said the suggested $10 billion to defeat the disease "seems fairly reasonable - in fact, a bargain."

Later, Mr. Annan had a one-on-one meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell. Speaking to the press afterwards, the Secretary-General said the two had discussed Iraq, the Middle East, Secretary Powell's recent visit to Africa, and the struggle against AIDS.