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BANGKOK – Former South African President Nelson Mandela, in a veiled swipe at the United States, called on donors on Thursday to join efforts to pour billions of dollars into a global fund to fight AIDS.

Last Updated: 2004-07-15 (Reuters)

BANGKOK – Former South African President Nelson Mandela, in a veiled swipe at the United States, called on donors on Thursday to join efforts to pour billions of dollars into a global fund to fight AIDS.

Speaking at a major AIDS conference in Bangkok where Washington has come under fire for its go-it-alone approach, Mandela said donor nations must unite against the incurable disease that has killed 20 million people and infected nearly twice that number.

"We challenge everyone to help fund the fund now," said the Nobel laureate and one of the world’s leading AIDS campaigners.

The controversy erupted when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the Bush administration should inject $1 billion a year and show the same commitment to fighting AIDS that it does in combating terrorism.

The United States promptly rejected the call and refused to exceed its $200 million commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for 2005.

Mandela did not name the United States in his speech, but he said all donors needed to increase their funding substantially for the Geneva-based fund, a public-private partnership.

"Ensuring the Global Fund is fully funded is critical to success in our fight against the three diseases," he said, adding that donors should "harmonise their efforts in support of nationally owned plans and frameworks of the recipient nations."

Washington insists it is leading the AIDS war through President George W. Bush’s five-year, $15 billion plan for care, prevention and treatment in 15 countries, mostly in Africa and the Caribbean, which account for 70 percent of new infections.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic organisation set up by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, announced a $50 million donation to the Global Fund on Thursday, bringing its total to $150 million, and urged others to hike their funding.

Thousands of delegates chanting "Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela" greeted the former South African leader, who turns 86 on Sunday, at an event to promote his anti-AIDS campaign 46664 – his prison number during 27 years in apartheid jails.

With host Thailand’s human rights record in the spotlight during the conference, Mandela said governments must offer treatment to marginalised groups such as refugees, intravenous drug users and sex workers.

AIDS activists say Thailand’s ‘war on drugs’ is driving injecting drug users, who are among the most at risk from AIDS, away from sources of help.

"As former prisoner 46664, there is a special place in my heart for all those who are denied access to their basic human rights," Mandela said to loud applause.

Earlier on Thursday, Mandela said the AIDS fight could be lost if the world ignored tuberculosis, often a death sentence for people infected with HIV.

About 14 million people are infected with HIV and tuberculosis, 70 percent living in sub-Saharan Africa, the region hardest hit by HIV/AIDS.

"The world has made defeating AIDS its top priority. This is a blessing, but TB remains ignored," Mandela, who was treated for TB while in prison, told reporters.

He said resources to fight tuberculosis were woefully short despite the world having had a cure for more than 50 years.

Research into the dual TB/AIDS epidemic got a boost with a $45 million grant from the Gates Foundation to fund studies into controlling tuberculosis in areas with high HIV infection rates.

Health experts hope Mandela’s message will convince people with HIV and tuberculosis to tell their stories and raise awareness about the dual epidemic.

Winstone Zulu, a Zambian who spoke alongside Mandela, said he had lost four brothers because they lacked access to TB d

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