Next Administration Cannot Ignore AIDS in Africa, Albright Says
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Friday told South African President Thabo Mbeki that she had come to Africa "to make very clear that policy toward Africa was not optional," and challenged George W. Bush "not to drop President Clinton's focus on Africa" if he is elected president, Reuters reports. Regarding her meeting with Mbeki, Albright told reporters that she "made it quite clear that no matter who is president ... that Africa and African issues have to be very clearly understood as being part of U.S. national interests," adding, "This is not [Bush's] father's foreign policy." Critics are worried that a Bush administration would pay less attention to the continent, citing comments made by Bush and his "likely" foreign policy adviser Condoleezza Rice that Africa does not "fit" into U.S. strategic policy (Monaghan, Reuters, 12/8). Albright said that during the meeting with Mbeki, who has "suffered withering international condemnation" for questioning the link between HIV and AIDS and for refusing to provide antiretroviral drugs to pregnant women to prevent vertical transmission, they discussed the "need for clearer statements and the need for better education about HIV/AIDS in smaller communities not immediately available to the national media centers" (Nessman, Associated Press, 12/9). The South African government has recently granted "conditional approval" to the distribution of nevirapine to pregnant women and agreed last week to accept U.S. drug maker Pfizer's $50 million donation of the drug fluconazole, a treatment for meningitis and throat infections common among AIDS patients. Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang "took steps against the stigma of HIV" last week by announcing that some of her friends and family were infected with the virus. However, Deputy Minister Jacob Zuma acknowledged that despite these recent efforts, "the HIV/AIDS army marches on unchecked on its path of destruction."
Albright's AIDS Awareness
While in South Africa, Albright visited the Perinatal HIV Research Unit at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto to "draw attention to the pandemic ravaging the continent and the effort to fight it," the AP/Houston Chronicle reports. As she toured the clinic, one of the 11 sites in South Africa receiving U.S. HIV funding, Albright said, "This disease knows no boundaries, knows no particular people, it's just an equality killer. What is important is that finally the world is paying attention to the disease." The United States will provide $40 million over the next five years to help South Africa raise awareness of AIDS (AP/Houston Chronicle, 12/9). Albright also visited Botswana, where one of the country's most popular singers revealed "for the first time" that she is HIV-positive. Mayoress Molefi-Mochangana told Albright and a group of women who met at a prenatal clinic that although she tested positive, she is "living a happier life," and urged other women to get tested. The Botswana government estimates that 29% of the adult population is HIV-positive, and 8,700 infants are born with HIV each year, according to Health Minister Joy Phumaphi, despite the fact that the government provides AZT and infant formula to HIV-positive pregnant women. While at the clinic, Albright announced a U.S. government donation of 200 trailers, including televisions and video recorders, for use as HIV counseling centers across the country (Nessman, Associated Press, 12/11).