'Angel' Emma Joins Battle Against AIDS

02/02/2004 AT 03:06 AM EST

"Angels in America" guardian angel Emma Thompson floated into a press conference in London on Monday to join health experts and equal-rights advocates as they launched a coalition to improve the plight of young women and girls infected with HIV/AIDS, reports PEOPLE.

The Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, a group of organizations and individuals, also hopes to reduce violence against women, as well as some of the inherent political inequalities that make women more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

According to statistics obtained by Reuters, half of the estimated more than 40 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS are women. In Africa, twice as many young females are infected with HIV than men.

Thompson, 44, said at the gathering, "It may not be very clear why I'm here, (but) AIDS is the greatest threat facing the human race ever."

She pointed out the disparity in that "90 percent of people with AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa, (while) 90 percent of the resources spent on AIDS are spent in the developed world." She said her own realizations about the AIDS crisis were "like being hit over the head with a brick. And statistics don't often have that effect on me."

The Global Coalition aims to bring changes at all levels to help reduce women's vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and increase their ability to deal with it and its consequences. United Nations agencies around the globe will be participating.

"I don't think we understand what it really means to be poor, what it means to be living with AIDS when you have no running water," said Thompson, adding, "I think we cannot place too much importance on putting the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases into the hands of women."

She said that on her previous visits to Africa, "You get the same story. Not only if a woman actually asks her husband to use a condom will the husband literally leave, but also if the woman within marriage is infected, the husband also leaves."

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