Powell Meets With Mbeki, AIDS Not Discussed
On the second stop of his four-nation African tour, Secretary of State Colin Powell met yesterday with South African President Thabo Mbeki, but they did not discuss the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which affects an estimated 20% of the country's adult population, the Washington Post reports. After the hour-long meeting in Pretoria, Powell told reporters that he "didn't have to discuss" HIV/AIDS because Mbeki is "fully seized with the problem, doing everything possible" (Jeter, Washington Post, 5/25). Mbeki "caused a storm" last year when he commissioned a panel of scientists to investigate whether HIV truly causes AIDS, a theory "long accepted as fact" by most researchers. Last month, he again caused a stir when he questioned the need for HIV testing because he said scientists "disagreed on what was being tested" (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 5/25). U.S. officials have taken "pains not to openly criticize" Mbeki, however Andrew Natsios, the new head of the U.S. Agency for International Development who is traveling with Powell, acknowledged that Mbeki maintains some "unorthodox views" on HIV/AIDS. He added that Mbeki is now "cooperative" but "implied" that his earlier hesitation to "publicly explain that sexual intercourse spreads AIDS" enabled the country's infection rate to climb (Barber, Washington Times, 5/25). Natsios also "suggested" that Mbeki and other African leaders have "sometimes shirked their duty to promote safer sex." Natsios added, "What would make a difference is any head of state -- not just President Mbeki -- publicly saying that we have a crisis, that we need people to change their behavior" (Phillips, Wall Street Journal, 5/25). Natsios said that there is a "direct connection between the willingness" of leaders to discuss HIV/AIDS prevention and the "success of such programs" in Africa and urged leaders to "speak out more forcefully" about the causes of AIDS and methods to prevent HIV transmission (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 5/25).
Prevention is the 'Key'
South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who also met with Powell, did discuss the nation's HIV/AIDS epidemic. Responding to criticism about South Africa's reluctance to provide antiretroviral drugs to pregnant women to decrease the rate of vertical transmission, she stressed that the "most important tools" for fighting the disease are education and medication to treat opportunistic infections in AIDS patients. Powell agreed, calling prevention "the key to it all." He added that the country needs to educate youth about HIV/AIDS in order to "break the chain" of infection. Powell also said he would "like to see even more" money, above the United State's $200 million contribution to the proposed global AIDS fund, go toward fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa (Agence France-Presse, 5/25).
Plan to Involve Religious Leaders in Fight Against HIV/AIDS
Natsios announced a new international plan to involve Christian and Muslim religious leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS through "preaching" abstinence and monogamy. Through the program, literature promoting abstinence will be distributed at religious services to "supplement" existing U.S.-funded condom-based programs. "Condoms don't always work -- the best thing to do is behave yourself," Natsios said. The administration has indicated an intention to nominate condom opponent John Klink, an adviser to the Vatican and a former Catholic Relief Services official, to head the State Department office in charge of refugee- and population-related issues. Powell has been rumored to disagree with the choice of Klink, but State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher said Powell thinks Klink is "excellently qualified" for the post (Wall Street Journal, 5/25).
Bush 'Very, Very Interested' in Powell's Report
"Conscious of the criticism that the Bush administration is indifferent to Africa," Powell assured reporters that the president is "very, very interested in what my report will be when I get back," the Post states. Mbeki, who visited Bush in Texas during the campaign and is scheduled to visit Washington next month, said that he was "certain" that the current administration would be "as concerned" with African matters as its predecessor was, and added that "President Bush is indeed very concerned that the United States must lend its strength to help us find solutions" (Washington Post, 5/25). Powell will visit an AIDS project in the township of Soweto and give a speech at the University of Witwatersrand before departing for Kenya tomorrow (de Rocquefeuil/Hennop, Agence-France Presse, 5/25).