“It is now clear that the AIDS epidemic is still in its early stages,” Dr. Peter Piot, the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme of HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), told the XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona on Sunday. “And let us be equally clear: our fight back is at an even earlier stage.”Dr. Piot called for stepped up efforts to meet global anti-AIDS targets set at recent international conferences, including last year’s UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS. “The promises have been made,” he said. “Now they must be kept.”The UNAIDS chief also warned that failing to act immediately would have catastrophic consequences. “We stood by while AIDS overwhelmed sub-Saharan Africa,” he said. “Never again. We cannot stand by as passive observers while other continents repeat history, and we must not fail Africa now, in her attempts to turn back the epidemic’s devastation.” Dr. Piot said the forces of global inequality underpinning the AIDS epidemic must also be addressed to make real progress against the epidemic. “International trade negotiations may have as great an impact on how many people get AIDS treatment as any number of national treatment access plans,” he said.A report recently released by UNAIDS shows that the AIDS epidemic is still in its early phase, with no sign of levelling off in the hardest hit countries. The Report on the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic 2002 warns that AIDS is erasing decades of development and cutting life expectancy by nearly half in the most affected areas. Today, 40 million people live with HIV/AIDS in the world, according to the UN. Last year, 5 million people were newly infected with HIV, and 3 million died of AIDS.