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Europeans Launch New Initiative in Fight Against AIDS

April 10, 2002

Four European countries on Tuesday launched an anti-AIDS program to develop hospitals in areas of the world decimated by HIV. "The aim is to allow for hospital structures in developing countries to be able to work in the most efficient manner through this cooperation," Italian Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia said during a conference in Rome with his counterparts from France, Luxembourg and Spain. The initiative, known as ESTHER after its acronym in French, proposes creating partnerships between hospitals in Europe and health services in developing countries. It seeks to prevent the spread of AIDS as well as to allow patients to receive much-needed medical treatment.

France has already agreed to provide nine million euros ($7.9 million) this year for the project. Luxembourg's minister of cooperation has announced a package of around 11 million euros ($9.6 million) over three years for two projects in Rwanda. The health ministers expressed the wish that other European countries would become involved, saying that there were already encouraging signs that Belgium, Norway, Switzerland and the United States would join the initiative. Portugal has agreed to join, although its newly sworn-in center-right government still needs to give the final go-ahead. French Health Minister Bernard Kouchner pointed out that more hesitant nations, such as Britain and Germany, still had to be convinced to take part.

"We four have made the first step. Now the initiative has to be explained to the others and we hope that we will quickly come to a joint position," said Spanish Health Minister Celia Villalobos, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. She said she believed that all European Union partners would come together on the issue within the year.

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