LONDON — According to the United Nations, AIDS is now "the most devastating disease humankind has ever faced". Twenty years after the epidemic began with an outbreak in the United States, more than 60 million people have been infected with the virus and 22 million have died. It is the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa and the fourth biggest killer in the world.

Indeed, such is the scale of the devastation caused by this disease, that there is no shortage of dramatic figures to illustrate the crisis. And one particularly staggering statistic sums up the speed at which it is now spreading. It's estimated that, every day, another 14,000 people become infected with the incurable virus — approximately five people every 30 seconds.

With such a gloomy prognosis — put forward to mark World Aids Day 2001 (30 November 2001) — there appears to be little room...

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