BARCELONA, Spain – Bill Clinton embraced Nelson Mandela to wild cheers at the world AIDS conference Friday and declared that the battle against AIDS must be won.
"One hundred million AIDS cases means more terror, more mercenaries, more war, destruction, and the failure of fragile democracies," Clinton said at the close of the 14th International AIDS Conference, the largest held since the meetings began in 1985.
The former U.S. and South African presidents told 15,000 scientists, care workers and activists that determination and billions of dollars for prevention and treatment programs were needed to halt the global spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
"AIDS is a war against humanity," said Mandela, who walked onstage supported by a cane and warmly embraced Clinton.
Mandela said AIDS is claiming more victims "than all wars and natural disasters" and cited the United Nations' warning that 70 million people could die in the next 20 years "unless drastic action is taken."
He called for access to HIV-fighting drugs "for all those that need it, wherever they may be in the world, regardless of whether they can afford it."
South Africa has the world's largest population infected with the virus -- 4.7 million people.
Clinton said "the horrendous march of the pandemic" could mean "more terror, more mercenaries, more war, destruction, and the failure of fragile democracies."
"We cannot lose our war against AIDS and win our battle against poverty, promote stability, advance democracy and increase peace and prosperity," Clinton said.
The former U.S. president said he and Mandela were launching a World Leaders AIDS Action Network to "raise the global commitment to end AIDS."
"I will do all I can in the United States and around the world to get more money, more action," he said.
He also held up a photo of a 4-year-old Nigerian girl born healthy because her infected parents took drugs that prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission.
"Do not give up on anyone," he said.
Clinton called on Washington to "figure out what our share is" of the yearly $10 billion that the United Nations says is needed to finance global AIDS programs. Current spending stands at about $2.8 billion.
He said America should increase its spending on AIDS by nearly $2 billion, which would amount to "less than two months of the Afghan war, less than 3 percent of the requested increase of defense and homeland security budgets."
But some experts said even $10 billion may be too little.
"Even if it were 25 billion dollars a year, it would still be peanuts," said Dr. Joep Lange, incoming president of the International AIDS Society.
The issues discussed at the weeklong conference included the need to get HIV-fighting drugs to more people and the plight of women in HIV-ravaged nations.
The expectations of widespread access to anti-AIDS drugs in poor countries were shattered by a recent U.N. report saying only 30,000 people were taking the drugs in sub-Saharan Africa, said Seth Berkley, president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.
In the developing world as a whole, less than 1 percent of people infected with the AIDS virus are receiving drug treatment, according to a recent World Health Organization report.
However, 15 Caribbean nations said last week they reached a deal with major pharmaceutical companies, including some in the United States, to buy drugs for AIDS patients at discounts of up to 90 percent.
The conference also discussed the favorable results from a new drug for patients whose infections resist all current treatments. Concerns were raised by a report that one American HIV patient was infected again with a similar strain of the virus, causing a superinfection resistant to all the drugs.
There also were new findings making it even more unlikely that the virus can be eradicated from the body once it has invaded. There still is no cure and no preventive vaccine on the horizon.
New statistics also revealed the global evolution of the epidemic. Experts predicted increasing numbers of AIDS orphans, a greater proportion of the new infections occurring in young people and a shift toward the majority of infections occurring in young women.
"The sense that the epidemic has a woman's face is now everywhere felt," said Stephen Lewis, the U.N. secretary-general's special envoy on HIV and AIDS in Africa.
The next International AIDS Conference will be held in Thailand in 2004.