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January 10, 2000

Gore to Preside at Security Council Session on AIDS Crisis


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    By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE

    WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 -- For the first time, the United Nations Security Council will convene on Monday to take up a health issue -- the spread of AIDS, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the United Nations calls it "the worst infectious disease catastrophe since the bubonic plague."

    In an election-year bonus for Vice President Al Gore, the Clinton administration has designated him to preside over the session, where he plans to announce that the administration is seeking $100 million from Congress in next year's budget to combat AIDS abroad. Most of it would go to sub-Saharan Africa, where, American officials say, 10 people are infected with the virus every minute. A portion of the money would go to India, which is expected to become the crisis's next epicenter.

    The money would go toward education and prevention programs, home care, testing, blood screening and care for the millions of children orphaned by AIDS.

    One focal point would be increasing money for a relatively inexpensive drug that can help block transmission of the virus from pregnant women to their children. The United States now supplies $3 million worth of such drugs overseas. The Administration wants to triple that amount, although the children who are saved usually become orphans because the treatment does not save the mothers.

    In opening the session, Mr. Gore plans to say that the human immuno-deficiency virus, which leads to AIDS, has grown beyond a health epidemic to become a threat to global security and stability.

    "There can be no doubt that H.I.V./AIDS is a security threat," his draft remarks say.

    Mr. Gore's remarks note that experts predict that more people will die of AIDS in the next decade than have died in all the wars of the 20th century. "For the nations of sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS has crossed beyond the borders of a humanitarian crisis to become a security crisis," the remarks say, "because it threatens not just the citizens of those nations -- it threatens the very institutions that define and defend those nations" an apparent reference to its major impact on business and professional people.

    Mr. Gore is also to announce that the administration is seeking $50 million for vaccines against other diseases that are ravaging poor countries. And he plans to call for more involvement by foundations, private corporations and other countries to help provide basic health care in the developing world. Only 2 percent of all global public and private biomedical research is devoted to the diseases that are the major killers in the developing world.

    Officials estimate that vaccines that exist for some of these diseases, including hepatitis B, influenza and yellow fever, already save about three million lives a year and that the additional money could save four million more. The idea, officials said, is to establish a health network so that if an AIDS vaccine is ever available, it can reach those who need it.

    Mr. Gore is overseeing the security council meeting in his capacity as vice president, but his presence is not without its political component.

    Mr. Gore and his sole rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Senator Bill Bradley, have both been courting the gay vote, which makes up more than 9 percent of the primary electorate in the important states of New York and California.

    AIDS transmission in Africa has been primarily heterosexual, while in the United States it has disproportionately affected gay men and, more recently, members of minority groups. So the chance for Mr. Gore to preside at an international forum to emphasize the vast global consequences of the disease could help him secure his standing among gay and African-American voters, two heavily influential voting groups in the Democratic primary.

    There is another political element to Mr. Gore's visit to the United Nations. The man who made Mr. Gore's appearance possible was Richard Holbrooke, the new chief United States delegate. By providing this opportunity to the candidate, Mr. Holbrooke could increase his own chances to be named secretary of state in a Gore administration.

    Since H.I.V. was identified in 1981, some 50 million people around the world have been infected with it and 16.3 million have died. In sub-Saharan Africa, where 80 percent of cases are believed to be transmitted through heterosexual activity, the virus has killed vast numbers of teachers, members of the military and employees in business enterprises from mining to banking, leading to marked declines in gross domestic production in many countries.

    "Development in these countries has been set back 40 years," said Paul De Lay, chief of the H.I.V./ AIDS division at the United States Agency for International Development.

    Sandy Thurman, director of the Administration's Office of National Aids Policy, said that American corporations doing business overseas are starting education programs for their employees, and many local businesses are now training two workers for every one they need because one is likely to die of AIDS.

    AIDS is the fourth-leading cause of death in the world and the leading cause of death in Africa. By the end of 2010, it is expected to create 40 million orphans, many of whom wind up on the streets, increasing their nations' rates of crime, drug use and prostitution and straining social services budgets.

    If Congress approves the money, the United States would devote $342 million to combatting AIDS overseas, including $100 million it approved last year. By contrast, the United States spends $800 million a year on AIDS at home, where 40,000 new cases are diagnosed every year; in Africa, 5.6 million new cases appear annually.

    The draft of Mr. Gore's speech cites the success of a few countries, like Uganda, in reducing its AIDS cases -- primarily through education -- and calls for the world to discuss AIDS more openly.

    "We must discuss AIDS not in whispers, in private meetings, in tones of secrecy and shame, but right here, in one of the great forums of the world, loudly and boldly, with a sense of urgency and concern and compassion," the draft reads. "Until we end the stigma, we will never end the disease."




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