U.S. Pledges Nearly $1M to South African Trade Unions for Fighting HIV/AIDS, Backs Use of NevirapineHHS Secretary Tommy Thompson yesterday promised nearly $1 million to South African trade unions to help them support employer- and union-based programs to fight HIV/AIDS, and he pledged to work with the South African government on health issues even though the United States disagrees with the government's stance on antiretroviral drugs, Reuters reports (Reuters, 4/4). Thompson pledged the money in a cooperative agreement with the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, a group that has for the last three years supplied South African unions with comprehensive HIV/AIDS training and technical assistance. The money will come from the CDC and will be used to support employer-based HIV/AIDS outreach programs, such as one at the South African operations of the Ford Motor Company, which Thompson called an "excellent example of creating public-private partnerships to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS" (HHS release, 4/4). Unions are "key allies" of the ANC-controlled government. However, union leaders have criticized President Thabo Mbeki's views on HIV/AIDS, which have questioned the causal link between the virus and the disease and the safety and efficacy of antiretroviral drugs.
Agreeing to Disagree
Thompson said yesterday during a joint press conference with South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang that although the United States and South Africa disagree over the use of antiretroviral drugs to treat people with HIV/AIDS, the two nations want to work together to fight the disease. "This is a fight we can't ignore. The United States wants to be partners to help the people of South Africa fight this insiduous disease," Thompson said, announcing that the Bush administration has decided for the first time to add a health attache to its embassy in South Africa (Reuters, 4/4). He added that there are "going to be some differences ... but the positives of our partnership are so much more than the few things that we disagree (on)" (South African Press Association, 4/4). Thompson also reiterated that the United States believes nevirapine, an antiretroviral drug currently being used in 18 pilot sites in South Africa for the reduction of vertical HIV transmission, is safe, adding that "we need it and we use it" (Agence France-Presse, 4/4). He also noted that Tshabalala-Msimang was "extremely open" on the issue of nevirapine, which many have pressured the government to use nationwide, and said that both countries were concerned about preventing the spread of HIV through breastfeeding and wanted to find "effective and sustainable infant feeding practices." Tshabalala-Msimang told reporters that the government was working under the assumption that HIV causes AIDS. However, she said it was "wrong to think that all deaths in South Africa were caused by HIV/AIDS," noting that poverty, tuberculosis, malaria and violence also account for many deaths. "As a Department of Health, we cannot ignore all of these causes of death in our country and straitjacket ourselves to only HIV/AIDS," she said (South African Press Association, 4/4).
U.S. Pledges $30M to Mozambique
During a meeting with Mozambique Health Minister Francisco Songane on Tuesday, Thompson announced that the United States has pledged $30 million to that country for HIV/AIDS and other health-related initiatives, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 4/3). Thompson and Songane also signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" in which the United States promised to work with the health ministry over the next five years to improve the country's HIV surveillance network. "The leadership of Mozambique has indicated a strong dedication to addressing the health challenges facing this country, particularly HIV/AIDS," Thompson said, adding that he "look[s] forward to continuing and expanding our relationship with Mozambique, as well as with nations across Africa." Thompson was in South Africa and Mozambique as part of an official week-long visit to Africa, which will also take him to Botswana and Ivory Coast (HHS release, 4/3). About 12% of Mozambique's population of 17 million is affected by HIV/AIDS, and 700 new HIV cases are registered each day (Agence France-Presse, 4/3).