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12/5/04 - MEETING THE AIDS CHALLENGE  - 2004-12-06

This month, World AIDS Day was observed to remember those who have died from the disease and those who are living with the H-I-V virus that causes it. According to Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of the United Nations Joint Program on AIDS, the most affected region is sub-Saharan Africa, where twenty-five-million people are infected with H-I-V and another thirteen million have died. The area with the second highest prevalence of H-I-V is the Caribbean, where more than one in fifty adults is infected.

But no part of the world is immune. Dr. Piot says that the situation in China, India, and Russia "is perilously close to a tipping point. If it reaches a prevalence rate even a small percentage of what is seen in some nations in Africa," says Dr. Piot, "it would mean tens of millions of infections" in those three countries.

President George W. Bush has committed the U.S. to spending fifteen-billion dollars over a five-year period to fight the AIDS epidemic in more than one-hundred countries. The plan places a special focus on fifteen countries accounting for one-half the world's H-I-V infections. They are Botswana, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Vietnam. In those countries, the U.S. is on track to meet its goal of supporting life-prolonging therapy for two-hundred-thousand people with H-I-V in the program's first year. Randall Tobias is the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator:

"In meeting this interim goal, we will not only contribute to more than doubling the number of people receiving treatment in sub-Saharan Africa within a one-year period, but we will also be on track for our longer term goal of achieving the objective of supporting treatment for over two-million people in the fifteen focus nations by the end of the first five years of the emergency plan."

One such person who has benefited from the drug regimen is Buse Banga. She was in a coma at a hospital in Lukasa, Zambia. Her neighbors had given her up for dead. But two weeks after being treated at a U.S.-funded facility, she opened her eyes. She has now returned home.

"The American people have embarked upon a historic mission to turn the tide of H-I-V/AIDS," says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. The U.S., says Mr. Powell, is "working in partnership with governments and communities across the globe to bring hope to the millions of people who are living in the shadow of H-I-V/AIDS."