South African Government’s AIDS Policies Not Likely to Adversely Affect U.S. Funding of HIV Prevention Initiatives
South Africa's "tragic" HIV/AIDS policies are not likely to adversely affect U.S. funding for HIV prevention initiatives in the country, U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) said yesterday on a trip to Cape Town, the South African Press Association reports. Kolbe, chair of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees USAID funding, said, "Speaking as an individual here, not for the United States government but as an individual who is responsible for funding these programs, my estimate would be today, no, it is not going to affect it." The United States gave $54 million to South Africa this year, with a "significant portion" of that money going toward HIV/AIDS initiatives. Kolbe noted that many in the United States view South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has publicly questioned the causal link between HIV and AIDS, as "conflicted." However, he said that because South Africa has a "well-developed sector outside national government" that provides AIDS services -- such as non-governmental organizations, private foundations, hospitals and provincial governments -- the United States is not likely to cut funding.
"It is tragic that we have such a lack of leadership on the part of the central government to deal with [HIV/AIDS], but we are getting services to where [they are] needed," Kolbe said. However, he called the government's reluctance to provide nevirapine to HIV-positive women through the public health service a "tragedy of unspeakable magnitude." A "simple commitment" from the government to provide the drug, along with a $30 million donation from the United States to support a distribution program, could halve the AIDS-related infant mortality rate, Kolbe said, noting that providing the drug, which he said is "safe" and used widely elsewhere, was a "common sense" policy. On the subject of Mbeki, he said it was "puzzling" that such a "brilliant individual, probably one of the most intellectually brilliant people that has ever been a leader in Africa," would be so reluctant to believe accepted theories on HIV/AIDS. Kolbe was in South Africa as part of a five-member bipartisan congressional delegation that also visited Mali, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Swaziland (South African Press Association, 4/8).