Leaders at African Union Summit Pledge To Improve Coordination on Fight Against AIDS
Fifty-three African leaders on Saturday at the close of the eight-day African Union summit in Maputo, Mozambique, issued a draft declaration on HIV/AIDS calling on African countries to "improve coordination" in the fight against the disease, Reuters reports (Esipisu, Reuters, 7/12). Following a video conference between conference attendees in Maputo and six other cities, delegates agreed to a draft declaration on AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, calling for at least $3 billion in international aid to fight the disease, as well as partnerships with international donors, civil society, the private sector and HIV-positive people in an effort to provide better treatment, care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS. The leaders said that it was possible for the international community to provide the $3 billion needed and that such money should be channeled through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. In addition, International Monetary Fund Director Horst Kohler on Friday told reporters that developed nations must help in the fight against AIDS and other diseases, which could cripple economic growth in Africa (Xinhua News Agency, 7/12). Less than 20% of people at risk of HIV infection are currently targeted by prevention programs and only 50,000 people out of an estimated four million HIV-positive people in the region have access to antiretroviral drugs (Sylvester, Associated Press, 7/12).
Libyan Leader Moammar Kadafi Calls AIDS Gay Disease
Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi in a speech at the close of the summit on Saturday said, "If you are straight, you have nothing to fear from AIDS," according to the AP/Fort Worth Star Telegram (Sylvester, AP/Fort Worth Star Telegram, 7/13). In what was supposed to be a short thank-you speech, Kadafi unexpectedly gave an impromptu 45-minute speech in which he called AIDS a "peaceful virus" (Agence France-Presse, 7/12). "There are no problems with AIDS," he said, calling concern over the disease the result of "psychological warfare" with Western countries trying to sell antiretroviral drugs. "They say AIDS came from monkeys in Africa, but monkeys have been in Africa for hundreds of centuries," he said, adding, "They only say this to sell medicines" (Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique/AllAfrica.com, 7/12). The speech "sounded a discordant note" with a trial underway in Libya in which six Bulgarian health workers and a Palestinian doctor have been accused of spreading HIV to 393 Libyan children through blood products (Agence France-Presse, 7/12). The health workers have been detained in Libya since early 1999 on charges that they deliberately infected children with HIV while working at a hospital in Benghazi, Libya (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/19/02). Kadafi also told leaders not to "worry about tsetse flies and mosquitoes," which carry malaria and sleeping sickness, since they are "God's armies," protecting the continent from foreigners. "If they come here, they will get malaria and sleeping sickness," he said (AP/Boston Globe, 7/13).
African First Ladies Discuss AIDS Efforts
A group of African first ladies, meeting on Saturday on the sidelines of the summit for a follow-up meeting to a summit held last year on HIV/AIDS and said that there is no "magic solution" to the pandemic, Agence-France Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 7/12). The wives of 18 African leaders last year met in Switzerland to discuss ways of combating Africa's HIV/AIDS epidemic and launched a new organization tasked with fighting the disease on the continent (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/18/02). Since the founding of the organization, the women have been working with the Coca-Cola Foundation to produce a booklet and documentary on HIV/AIDS education, according to first lady of Gabon Edith Lucie (Agence France-Presse, 7/12). The women discussed organizational and structural issues for their group and agreed to shift to a more practical focus. The group also agreed to work to destigmatize the epidemic (East African Standard/AllAfrica.com, 7/13).
Global Fund Director Seeks To 'Confound Skeptics'
In a telephone interview with Reuters on Friday, Global Fund Director Richard Feachem, speaking from the summit, said that the fund has recently been "flooded with ideas" about how to combat AIDS in Africa. "Skeptics raise questions about these allocations, and say money cannot be absorbed. The answer is, let's make the money available, let's give all the support we can to programs which are expanding, and let the money follow the expansion," Feachem said, adding, "My prediction is that we will confound the skeptics ... let's have confidence in these countries and institutions and see what they can do." Feachem said the fund, which is now in its third round of grant approvals, was seeing growing interest on the part of government, nongovernmental organizations and other groups in Africa involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, the fund has about $2.1 billion on hand, about half of the amount needed to continue current programs through the next two years. Feachem said that the U.S. global AIDS initiative will not "sideline the fund" but will "complement its activities," according to Reuters (Quinn, Reuters, 7/11).
AIDS Initiative Funding
President Bush in May signed into law a global AIDS bill (HR 1298) that authorizes $3 billion a year for five years to international HIV/AIDS programs, with up to $1 billion in fiscal year 2004 going to the Global Fund. However, the amount of funding actually appropriated may be less than $1 billion and is contingent upon the contributions of other countries. Under the measure, the United States can contribute up to $1 billion to the fund only if that amount totals no more than one-third of the fund's total contributions. Therefore, in order for the total $1 billion to be appropriated, other nations must contribute more money (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/23). A House Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday approved $17.1 billion in FY 2004 foreign assistance, including $1.27 billion to fight AIDS internationally, and the full House on Thursday approved a bill (HB 6470) to provide funding for labor, education and health programs, including $644 million for foreign AIDS research and prevention and $155 million for combating other infectious diseases, such as TB. As a result, total funding for global AIDS is now a little more than $2 billion for FY 2004. In a separate action, the Senate approved 78-18 a nonbinding resolution calling for $3 billion in FY 2004 to fight AIDS overseas, even if the amount exceeds the ceiling mandated in Congress's annual budget resolution (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/11).
A kaisernetwork.org HealthCast of the Global Forum on Health and Development videoconference that took place at the summit is available online.
PRI's "The World" on Friday interviewed AllAfrica.com correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who covered the summit (Werman, "The World," PRI, 7/11). The full segment is available online in Windows Media.