Japan announced Friday it will give 560 million dollars to help fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as it seeks to make aid to Africa a major theme of its chairmanship of the G8 group.
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said the fresh assistance would be channelled through the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
He said the aid would be given "in the coming years" from 2009, but did not specify how many years it would extend over.
"HIV/AIDS is poised to inflict an even heavier toll than even the plague in the Middle Ages, becoming the most damaging infectious disease in human history," Fukuda said in a speech.
He said about five million people around the world were dying every year from AIDS and the other diseases.
"Amidst these tragedies, it is the African region that has been most seriously affected, with 80 percent of the people dying from AIDS and malaria concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa," Fukuda said.
Japan last pledged aid worth 500 million dollars to the fund in 2005. The money was disbursed over three years to February 2008, according to a foreign ministry official.
The new aid aims to "demonstrate Japan's diplomatic efforts to help Africa" as it prepares to host an international conference on African aid next week and the Group of Eight summit of world leaders in July, the official said.
The money comes on top of Japan's pledge earlier this week to double its financial assistance to Africa by 2012 as part of efforts to help the continent combat poverty and civil conflicts, he said.
World Bank representative Kazushige Taniguchi welcomed Japan's pledge.
"But increasing financial assistance alone cannot solve the problems in Africa," he said.
"Even though the number of aid organisations, which have an enormous financial capacity, has tripled compared with the 1980s and 1990s, the way aid money is used is not always effective," he told reporters.
"For example, there's a private aid foundation which touts its specialisation in aid on AIDS, but in some developing countries, life-or-death resources such as clean water and food are needed much more," he said.
Japan also announced it will release 20,000 tonnes of rice worth about 54 million dollars for developing countries in Africa and elsewhere to help ease food shortages.
The shipments, which will come out of Tokyo's rice stockpiles, are part of 100 million dollars' worth of emergency food aid announced in late April, foreign ministry official Shigeru Kondo said.