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U.N. Report Card Gives Countries Low Marks in World’s Fight Against AIDS

By Lawrence K. Altman

The New York Times -- UNITED NATIONS

The first report card on the United Nation’s 2-year-old commitment to defeat AIDS gives the world’s countries generally low marks in their efforts to overcome ignorance about the disease and provide access to prevention and treatment measures, U.N. officials said Monday.

At the General Assembly’s special session on AIDS in June 2001, U.N. members agreed that defeating AIDS would take commitment, resources and action.

“Today, we have the commitment,” and “our resources are increasing,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan SM ’72 said at a meeting following up the declaration, which contained deadlines for battling the epidemic.

But the report card issued Monday, based on information provided by 103 governments, shows that the action “is still far short of what is needed,” Annan said.

Dr. Peter Piot, the director of the U.N. AIDS program, said, “The grades are barely a pass.”

He added, “There isn’t a single A in the report card.” The United Nations estimates that 42 million people are infected with HIV, half of them women, and that the vast majority live in sub-Saharan Africa. Without an expanded response, the United Nations estimates that an additional 45 million people will become HIV-infected by 2010.

Referring to these figures, U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told the United Nations on Monday that “AIDS was more devastating than any weapon of mass destruction.”

The declaration of commitment adopted in 2001 by 189 countries was intended to halt and reverse the AIDS pandemic by 2015. It was regarded as a turning point in the global response to AIDS and a recognition that the epidemic was a threat to the security of many countries.

The U.N. declaration was followed by a 20 percent increase in funding, to $4.7 billion, in low- and middle-income countries. Of that amount, 57 percent comes from sources outside the affected countries. The $4.7 billion is five times the amount spent in 1996 but less than half the $10 billion required for an effective response in 2005 and one-third of what will be needed by 2007, Piot said.

In part because of inadequate funding, many countries will not meet basic goals like rapidly expanding AIDS prevention and care that were expected of them by 2005.

One goal is to ensure that by 2005 at least 80 percent of pregnant women have access to information, counseling and treatment to prevent transmission of the AIDS virus. But such services remain virtually nonexistent in the countries that are worst affected by AIDS, according to the report card that Piot’s agency issued here Monday.