UNITED NATIONS – First Lady Laura Bush told a major AIDS conference Friday that more people must understand how the deadly virus is transmitted, and called on countries to improve literacy so their citizens can make better choices.
In a short speech to the U.N. General Assembly High-Level Meeting on AIDS, Bush warned that no country can ignore the AIDS crisis, which has killed some 25 million people in the 25 years since it was first detected and now infects 40 million people.
She said education is "spreading hope" and that the ABC model — abstain, be faithful and use condoms — has led to sharp declines in HIV infections. But people still do not properly understand the disease, she said.
"More people need to know how AIDS is transmitted — and every country has an obligation to educate its citizens," Bush said. "This is why every country must also improve literacy, especially for women and girls, so they can learn to make wise choices that will keep them healthy and safe."
Bush spoke on the final day of the three-day meeting, in which delegates from around the world plan to approve a document that will help guide efforts to fight the virus over the next 10 years.
U.N. officials and aid groups had hoped that this week's meeting would include a proposed detailed plan on the goal of bringing universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment to all those who want it by 2010.
Bush did not mention some of the most controversial issues surrounding AIDS, including setting specific funding targets or helping the most vulnerable groups, such as prostitutes, gay men and intravenous drug users.
The first lady touted President Bush's emergency plan for AIDS relief in Africa, known as PEPFAR, saying the $15 billion (euro11.7 billion) five-year program had helped provide treatment for 560,000 people in 15 hard-hit African countries.
She said some PEPFAR money would be dedicated to train "community health workers" in African towns. The United States will also seek the creation of an International HIV Testing Day in hopes that all those living with HIV/AIDS will be aware they have the virus, Bush said.
The meeting in New York comes after the U.N. AIDS office released a report saying that the world has failed to meet many of the goals it set out in 2001 to fight AIDS.