South African Official Tells Congressional Delegation That Nation’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic ‘Well-Managed’
South African Minister of Trade and Industry Alec Erwin yesterday told a six-member congressional delegation led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country is being "well-managed," a statement that could jeopardize the country's chances of receiving a portion of the funding from the global AIDS measure signed into law by Bush in May, the Chicago Tribune reports (Goering, Chicago Tribune, 8/22). The delegation, which includes Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and John Warner (R-Va.), was meeting with governmental officials in South Africa to discuss strategies for fighting HIV/AIDS (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/21). Erwin also told the delegation he does not believe the findings of studies that have shown that HIV/AIDS is adversely affecting the country's economy and life expectancy, according to the Tribune (Chicago Tribune, 8/22). A World Bank report released last month warned that South Africa's economy could collapse in several generations if the HIV/AIDS epidemic is not addressed more urgently (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/30). Frist said he told Erwin that it was "hard to believe" that HIV/AIDS was not affecting South Africa's economy "based on world literature," adding that he wants to "encourage political leadership here to recognize the magnitude of the problem" (Kraft, AP/Tennessean, 8/22).
Although Frist "stopped short" of saying that South Africa could lose its chance to obtain some of the funding from the global AIDS bill, he said that he was "disappointed" that neither President Thabo Mbeki nor Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang had scheduled meetings with the delegation during their visit to the country, according to the Tribune. He said, "Obviously, it disturbs me. The complexity of the problem demands political leadership." According to the Tribune, the delegation will play a "key role" in determining which countries will receive funding as part of the global AIDS initiative (Chicago Tribune, 8/22). Bush in May signed into law in a measure (HR 1298) that authorizes $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. The House so far has approved a total of $2 billion for the AIDS initiative in fiscal year 2004, an increase of about $500 million over FY 2003 AIDS spending (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/5). Frist added, "If the United States government is going to be investing taxpayer money, we need to make sure that money is invested with the full cooperation and support of governments who will be recipients" (AP/Tennessean, 8/22). Alexander, who serves as chair of the Senate African affairs subcommittee, said that he believed South Africa would "get its share" of global AIDS initiative funds, according to the Tribune. He added, "The South African government has not as enthusiastically reacted to this (AIDS) challenge as I would have expected them to, but that is changing" (Chicago Tribune, 8/22). Before returning to the United States on Aug. 29, the delegation plans to meet with government and public health officials, physicians, HIV-positive people and their families and visit clinics and testing and treatment facilities in Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/21).