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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Africa calls for help fighting Aids
Potent symbol - a multicoloured, patchwork quilt honouring millions of lives lost
Over 20 million people have died of Aids so far
African leaders have made emotional pleas for help with Aids at a special UN meeting on the epidemic, which is entering its second day in New York.

Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, warned that the future of Africa, where the disease is most prevalent, was "bleak", and entire populations were facing extinction.


The prospect of extinction of the entire population of a continent looms larger and larger

Nigerian president
He joined calls for the cancellation of Africa's debt to help them fight the disease.

And speakers from Africa told the session that urgent programmes were needed to educate women and girls and provide them with communications skills and condoms.

Nearly half the 36 million people infected with HIV around the world are women.

Concerted action

This is the first time the body has devoted a special session to discussing a health issue.

Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo led the calls for help
On Monday UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for concerted global action and more money to be put towards a fund for fighting Aids and related illnesses.

He said between $7bn and $10bn was needed annually to deal with the disease.

So far three countries - the United States, Britain and France - have made contributions to the fund along with three private donations, reaching a total of just $528m.

And US Secretary of State Colin Powell promised extra money, saying that the key to ending the epidemic was "prevention, prevention and more prevention".

Protests

But proceedings on the first day were disrupted by formal protests from delegates representing Muslim nations.

Click here for graph showing extent of the HIV/Aids epidemic

They object to the explicit mention of groups vulnerable to HIV infection, which they say offends the cultural sensitivities of some states and should be dropped from a declaration of commitment due to be adopted by the General Assembly.

Muslim member states have also opposed the participation of a gay rights group on the fringes of the gathering.

Their attempts to block the group delayed proceedings at the special session for several hours, despite appeals from a number of African delegates who said the argument threatened to undermine the main objective of the meeting.

Wide remit

The three days of conferences and meetings will end on Wednesday and will touch on everything from drug prices and Aids orphans to homosexuality.

More than 20 heads of state are attending, mainly from Africa, where some countries have seen the disease infect one in five of the adult population.

The conference is aiming to set out a worldwide strategy for tackling the disease and halting its spread.

Since its identification 20 years ago, Aids is estimated to be mankind's worst epidemic since the bubonic plague swept across 14th century Europe.




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See also:

25 Jun 01 | Business
US drops Brazil Aids drugs case
19 Apr 01 | Africa
SA victory in Aids drugs case
07 Nov 00 | Americas
Latin America 'faces Aids epidemic'
23 Jun 01 | Americas
Brazil uses porn to fight Aids
23 Nov 99 | Health
HIV hits 50 million
25 Jun 01 | Africa
How to spend Aids fund
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