After meeting with the executives of six of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today announced a major new agreement on concrete steps to help developing countries fight AIDS, which he called “the greatest public health challenge of our times.” Senior executives of Abbott Laboratories, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo Smith Kline, Hoffman-La Roche and Pfizer pledged to continue and accelerate substantial price reductions, particularly for Africa and the world’s least developed countries, the Secretary-General said in a statement released after the meeting.The companies further agreed to continue to offer affordable medicines to other developing countries, and to recognize the need to consider increased access to HIV/AIDS medicine to qualified non-governmental organizations and appropriate private companies offering health care in these nations.”Today’s commitments consolidate, and go beyond, the progress which individual companies had made in reducing prices since last May, when five of them signed a Joint Statement of Intent with the United Nations,” Mr. Annan said. “This represents a contribution to the global response to the epidemic, going much further than any of us could have predicted 12 months ago.”The Secretary-General, who said he had called the meeting because “AIDS has become my personal priority,” emphasized that the solution did not lie with pharmaceutical companies alone. “I am calling for a major mobilization — of political will and significant additional funding — to enable a dramatic leap forward in prevention, education, care and treatment,” he said.”In the next few months, leading up to the Special Session of the General Assembly at the end of June, the United Nations will be working overtime to mobilize increased resources for all aspects of the struggle against HIV/AIDS, and for better health care in developing countries,” Mr. Annan pledged.The UN estimates that in a number of countries, decades of development are being reversed by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Some 36.1 million people are living with HIV or AIDS worldwide, with 5.3 million newly infected during 2000 alone. That same year, 3 million people died of AIDS, bringing the total number of deaths since the start of the epidemic to 21.8 million.