Sen. Frist Calls Botswana’s ‘Political Will’ Model for Other Countries Fighting HIV/AIDS
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who is leading a six-member congressional delegation on a four-country trip through Africa, yesterday said that Botswana should be considered a model for other countries fighting HIV/AIDS, the Associated Press reports. "I am impressed with the political will [in Botswana]," Frist said, adding, "I hope that this political will serves as an example to other countries throughout the world, even beyond Africa." Botswana has implemented Africa's "most aggressive" effort to combat HIV/AIDS, including the provision of antiretroviral drugs to all who need them, according to the Associated Press. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, pharmaceutical company Merck and a Harvard University research lab located in the country are assisting Botswana's efforts through financial and technical support. The congressional delegation on Monday visited an HIV/AIDS clinic in Botswana's capital, Gaborone. The clinic is the largest of its kind in Africa, serving about 5,000 patients (Motseta, Associated Press, 8/26). 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.), travels next to Namibia to meet with government and public health officials, physicians and HIV-positive people and their families before returning to the United States on Friday (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/21).
While on the trip, Frist has expressed support for the $2 billion appropriation that a Senate committee recently approved to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa in fiscal year 2004 as part of the five-year, $15 billion international AIDS initiative. However, some AIDS advocates and congressional Democrats have said that the amount is $1 billion short of the amount needed (Associated Press, 8/26). The measure (HR 1298) supporting the initiative, which was signed into law by President Bush in May, authorizes $3 billion for the first year of the program. The Bush administration has requested $2 billion of the $3 billion authorized for the first year of the program. The House has approved a total of $2 billion for the AIDS initiative in FY 2004 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/26). Jamie Drummond, executive director of DATA, an AIDS, debt relief and trade advocacy group, said that any allocation for FY 2004 that is less than $3 billion next year would represent "a broken promise" (Associated Press, 8/26). Frist said that the African countries that will receive the money lack the necessary hospitals, clinics and medical training to effectively use the full $3 billion next year, according to Gannett/Tennessean. "The rate at which that money is invested needs to be done with consideration of the infrastructure development," Frist said. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, said that Frist was "clouding the issue" by saying that the lower funding level is appropriate because of a lack of infrastructure in Africa, according to Gannett/Tennessean. Zeitz said that the $2 billion figure that Bush promoted came from the White House Office of Management and Budget, not AIDS experts. "Sadly, even in Africa, Dr. Frist seems to feel he has to stick to the party line," Zeitz said, adding, "It's shocking that he places his loyalty to the president above saving lives" (Camire, Gannett/Tennessean, 8/26). Additional information on AIDS in Botswana is available online through kaisernetwork.org's Issue Spotlight on HIV/AIDS.