“The AIDS menace threatens to take a massive human toll in the region and jeopardizes efforts to achieve the UN Millennium Goal of cutting extreme poverty by half by 2015,” Asian Development Bank (ADB) Vice-President Geert van der Linden said of the study, which warns that the region is at a “make-or-break” stage in the fight against the disease. The report, “Asia Pacific’s Opportunity: Investing to Avert an HIV/AIDS Crisis,” released by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the ADB, warns that if prompt action is not taken the economic costs of the virus could rise to $17.5 billion annually by 2010, with millions more people thrown into poverty. It comes two days after UNAIDS released its 2004 Global Report showing that last year’s infection rate was the highest ever. “Governments in Asia and the Pacific can still avert a massive increase in infections and deaths, limit economic losses and save millions of people from poverty if they are willing to finance comprehensive AIDS programmes,” UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said. “The role of political leadership is more critical at this point than ever before.” More than 7 million people are already living with HIV in Asia and the Pacific, with hundreds of thousands dying each year. Economic losses totalled $7.3 billion in 2001. The report stresses that regional leaders must give top priority to ending the enormous – and increasing – shortfall in finances required for comprehensive prevention and care. Resources needed to fight the disease are expected to reach $5.1 billion annually between 2007 and 1010, it says. But in 2003, when the region needed $1.5 billion, only $200 million was available from public sector sources, governments and donors combined.