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War against AIDS `far from over’

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The 12th World AIDS Conference ended Friday with a call to arms, speakers warning that the war against the pandemic that will afflict 40 million people by the millennium is far from over.

As a counter added up the number of people infected with the HIV virus around the world - one every five seconds, 16,000 a day and about 100,000 since the conference began on Sunday - speakers at the closing session highlighted the inequities in treatment and care between rich and poor nations."Millions of children and adults are becoming infected, falling ill and dying without the barest essentials in medical treatment, counseling or social support," Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, said in a video address.

During the meeting, the world's leading scientists revealed their latest battle strategies against the disease and pharmaceutical companies produced new weapons - more potent drugs with fewer side effects.

But medical advances that have prolonged the lives of thousands in rich nations will offer no hope in the developing world where the disease is taking its heaviest toll.

In the absence of a vaccine, at best still years away, most experts agreed prevention was the best means of "bridging the gap" between the haves and have-nots, the theme of the weeklong conference.

"This meeting does a great deal to focus the world's attention on one of the most devastating epidemics to afflict the economically poor among us," Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet medical journal, said in a moving speech in which he castigated the drugs industry for not doing more to bridge the gulf between rich and poor.

Scientists and organizers did announce bold initiatives to provide AZT, an effective drug treatment, for mothers in some of the world's poorest countries to prevent them from transmitting the disease to newborns.