Reuter's coverage of the Global Fund

GENOA , Reuters - World powers and the United Nations launched a global war chest on Friday to help fund the fight against AIDS, but pledges from rich nations fell far short of the U.N. target for 2001 of $10 billion. AIDS campaigners said they were deeply disappointed, describing the amount of money pledged as 'outrageously low.' U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (news - web sites), attending a Group of Eight (G8) summit in the Italian port city of Genoa, said the rich industrialized nations, plus Russia, had promised cash amounting to more than $1.2 billion so far. "For the first time, we are seeing the emergence of a response to this deadly disease that begins to match the scale of the epidemic itself," Annan said in a statement. But he added: "The battle against AIDS will not be won without the necessary resources. We need to mobilize an additional $7-10 billion a year to fight this disease." The fund was also aimed at combating tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases raging mostly in Third World nations. Italy, which is hosting the G8 summit, said earlier the fund could reach $2 billion by the end of year, but some campaigners said the figure amounted to just a quarter of what the United States was believed to be spending on its plans for a missile defense shield in 2002 alone. DISAPPOINTMENT Drop the Debt campaigners, fighting to get rich nations to wipe out the debt of the poor, said by failing to address debt cancellation at the summit, the G8 were "giving with one hand and taking with the other." "Six weeks after the G8 leave their luxury liners in Genoa, Africa will have paid back in debt repayments every penny... announced today for the health trust fund," a statement said. The G8 said a task force would be set up immediately to ensure the fund became fully operational by the end of 2001. Annan underscored the enormity of the problem facing the world community, saying an estimated 36 million people were currently suffering from the disease. Most of those afflicted live in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. AIDS has so far claimed the lives of some 23 million people. Reacting to the launch of the fund, the Global AIDS Alliance, comprising humanitarian, religious and social justice groups, said it was deeply disappointed and criticized President Bush for failing to show commitment. "The pledges to the fund proposed at Genoa are still outrageously low," Alliance spokesman David Bryden said. "And while Bush talks of AIDS as an emergency, initiatives in Congress to massively increase funding to fight AIDS are languishing for lack of support from the White House." The New York-based International AIDS Vaccine Initiative said no more than about $470 million was currently being invested globally in AIDS vaccine research. "Over the course of the G8's three-day summit, 45,000 people will become newly infected with HIV," it said. "A safe, effective vaccine is the world's best hope for ending the pandemic." Humanitarian medical agency Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) said that without a proper strategy to ensure drugs are bought from generic producers, the fund would become a subsidy to U.S. and European drugs industries. Several major pharmaceutical companies have lowered prices for anti-retroviral drugs which slow the course of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But for many countries, the price is still too high for nationwide distribution. "We are here at the G8 summit to demand that the governments of the richest countries of the world...put people's lives over profits of the U.S. and Europe-based industry," said Ellen t'Hoen of the MSF's Access to Medicines campaign.