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UN Report Calls for Commitment to Fight Epidemics
Lisa Richwine
December 19, 2000
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Scattered successes fighting diseases in poor countries prove that massive epidemics can be brought under control if public and private groups commit billions of dollars and political will to fight them, a U.N. report released on Tuesday said.

Representatives of five U.N. agencies and the World Bank said they were optimistic that AIDS , tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases now wiping out millions of people and threatening economies could be reversed.

The challenge is securing commitments from governments in developed and developing countries, the drug industry and private companies and groups to pay for and implement programs to provide medicines, care and education, they said.

David Heymann of the World Health Organization web estimated that spending $5 billion a year for the next 10 to 15 years could cut in half the number deaths from AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and several childhood diseases and conditions that threaten pregnant women in the developing world.

"We have solid evidence these tools are effective, and they have had a great impact in reducing deaths where used effectively," Heymann told reporters at a news conference.

The report highlighted countries such as Senegal, Uganda and Thailand, which have curbed HIV infection rates through increasing access to condoms, counseling and testing and promoting education about safe sex and needle use.

In Thailand, for example, HIV infection rates among 21-year-old military enrollees fell to 1.5 percent in 1997 from 4 percent in 1993.

And in Vietnam, a government program that supplies free insecticide-treated bed nets and anti-malaria drugs has cut deaths from that disease by 97 percent over five years, the report said.

The U.N. agencies and World Bank were joined by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, two health lobbying groups and the Council on Foreign Relations, which views health crises as a threat to the world's security.

The groups said they hoped the report would spur action by U.S. President-elect George W. Bush and the new, closely divided Congress beyond the $1.4 billion the United States devoted to global health programs last year.

While some Republicans have questioned whether health epidemics should be viewed as a national security threat, both parties have backed worldwide programs such as funding to fight AIDS, said Chris Lovelace of the World Bank.

"There is good evidence of the potential for bipartisan support," Lovelace said.