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AIDS Day Pleas Target Men Around World
Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
December 1, 2000
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Clinton announced a $100 million plan to coordinate AIDS research around the globe on Friday, while other world leaders urged men to take the initiative in helping stem the spread of HIV.

Statistics released this week ahead of Friday's World AIDS Day commemoration show the HIV epidemic is far worse than anyone ever predicted.

The United Nations said more than 21 million people have died from AIDS since it was identified two decades ago, 36.1 million people are now infected with the AIDS virus and an estimated 5.3 million became infected just in the past year. Sub-Saharan Africa remains ground zero of the epidemic, with 25.3 million HIV patients. But Asia is next on the itinerary of the virus, as are former Soviet republics such as Ukraine.

This year's campaign, organized by dozens of AIDS groups and spearheaded by the U.N. AIDS agency UNAIDS, places the responsibility squarely on men.

"Broadly speaking, men are expected to be physically strong, emotionally robust, daring and virile. Some of these expectations translate into ways of thinking and behaving that endanger the health and well-being of men and their sex partners," UNAIDS said in a statement.

"Men are truly the driving force behind this epidemic, when it comes to injecting drug-use the majority are men, but also in terms of homosexual and heterosexual transmission it is male behavior that plays a dominant role," UNAIDS head Dr. Peter Piot added in an interview.

"Men can make a particular difference: by being more caring, by taking fewer risks and by facing the issue of AIDS head-on," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in his own message.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela also had a message of caring and compassion.

"Be faithful to one partner and use a condom... Let us take precautionary measures. Give a child love, laughter and peace, not AIDS," Mandela urged in his World AIDS Day address.

The message in the United States, which has long used its healthy economy to lead in HIV research, is more of the same.

Clinton released a National Institutes of Health initiative to spend $100 million next year on new global AIDS research, development of new prevention strategies, conferences and workshops and better coordination of AIDS policy among nations.

"We know we have to do more to help developing nations," Clinton said. "Despite these efforts, we all know a lot more is needed. Much, much more is needed."

"Great Plague Of The 2oth Century"

"By every definition, AIDS is the great plague of the 20th century," the report reads.

The effect is not just devastating families and societies.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) said AIDS will cause declines of 25 to 35 percent in the work forces of several countries in the next two decades. "Africa today is losing its prime labor force to HIV/AIDS," it said in a World AIDS Day release.

It said five countries will lose between a quarter and a third of their workers by 2020: Botswana with a loss of 30.8 percent, Mozambique with 24.9 percent, Namibia with 35.1 percent, South Africa with 24.9 percent and Zimbabwe losing 29.4 percent of workers.

Experts now say the epidemic is heading east and that China and India with their huge populations will be most vulnerable.

"We have a major challenge over the next five years as this virus moves into the large demographic countries of Asia," said Gordon Alexander, senior program adviser for UNAIDS in India.

The U.N. says China is on the fast track to an AIDS epidemic. Its estimated 600,000 HIV cases could grow to 10 million or more by 2010 unless the country acts soon.

"China needs to do a lot more" to promote condoms and sex education, Edwin Judd, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative in China, said. Experts agree that youth are the key in every region. To reach them, rock concerts were scheduled in Laos, Russia, Ukraine, Belize and China.

"Condom buses" crawled through the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam distributing condoms. Caravans touting safe sex messages traveled through Romania, Niger and Chad and an AIDS awareness train reached remoter parts of China.

Military helicopters flew over Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa Friday, dropping leaflets encouraging residents to practice safe sex.

International drug companies were set to announce a deal on Friday with Uganda to supply drugs at reduced prices. It is the second deal, after a similar pact with Senegal last month, in the initiative by five major drug companies to slash the prices of the drugs for poor African countries.