UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on world leaders at all levels on Thursday to assume greater accountability and intensify their efforts to halt and reverse the spread of AIDS.
In a message released on the eve of World AIDS Day, the UN chief warned that stakes in the struggle against AIDS are higher now than ever before.
"We cannot risk letting the advances that have been achieved unravel," he said. "We must not jeopardize the heroic efforts of so many."
The challenge now is to deliver on all the promises that have been made -- including the Millennium Development Goals, agreed by all the world's governments, of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV by 2015, Annan said.
The secretary-general said that accountability, the theme of this World AIDS Day, "requires every president and prime minister, every parliamentarian and politician, to decide and declare that 'AIDS stops with me.'"
But he pointed out that accountability applies not only to those holding positions of power.
"It also applies to all of us. ... It requires fathers, husbands, sons and brothers to support and affirm the rights of women," Annan said. "And it requires every one of us to help bring AIDS out of the shadows and spread the message that silence is death."
Annan said in the 25 years since the first case was reported, AIDS has changed the world, killing 25 million people and infecting 40 million more.
"It has inflicted the single greatest reversal in the history of human development," said the secretary-general. "Leaders at every level must recognize that halting the spread of AIDS is also a prerequisite for reaching most of the other goals, which together form the international community's agreed blueprint for building a better world in the 21 century."
He said he was encouraged by changes in the world's attitude towards the disease over the past 10 years during which fighting HIV and AIDS has been taken as seriously as it deserved.
Later in the day, the secretary-general will attend an event on the observance of World AIDS Day at St. Bartholomew's Church in New York.
In 2006, 2.9 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses while an estimated 39.5 million people in the world are living with HIV with 4.3 million people becoming infected, the UN's Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) recently reported.
More than half of these new infections -- 2.8 million (65 percent) -- occurred in sub-Saharan Africa while significant increases were also reported in Eastern Europe and Asia, according to UNAIDS.
(Xinhua News Agency November 29, 2006)