Bush touts his $15bn Aids initiative to Uganda
US President George Bush said on Friday that Uganda’s journey out of the scourge of Aids serves as a successful example for global efforts to contain the pandemic.
“You have shown the world what is possible in terms of reducing infection rates,” Bush told Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni during a meeting between the two.
Uganda is a model for stemming its once-spiralling HIV infection rate. It stands in sharp contrast to Botswana—another stop on Bush’s African journey—which is struggling with the world’s highest HIV infection rate.
Bush’s own five-year, $15-billion Aids plan is modelled after a programme in Uganda, which stresses abstinence, monogamy and condom use.
Bush also praised Museveni as “a strong advocate of free trade” and a force for peace in Central Africa.
From their meeting, Bush and his wife, Lara, went on a tour of an Aids clinic. Upon his arrival here from South Africa, hundreds of people lined the streets to greet him on his fourth stop during a five-nation African tour.
The clinic Bush visited saw 4 787 patients in 1997 and 28 776 last year.
The Aids Support Organisation (Taso) clinic, founded in 1987, was the first and largest indigenous HIV-services organisation in Africa. Most founders of the Taso clinic network have already died of Aids.
Bush spent several hours on Thursday in Botswana, where almost four of 10 adults carry the Aids virus. The country recently launched a public program to give free Aids drugs and treatment to anyone who needs them, a first of its kind effort in Africa.
“The people of this nation have the courage and the resolve to defeat this disease and you will have a partner in the United States of America,” Bush said to applause on Thursday before lunch with Botswana’s President Festus Mogae.
“This is the deadliest enemy Africa has ever faced and you will not face this alone.”
Uganda has managed to put the brakes on a rising HIV infection rate that had decimated the country in the 1980s and 1990s. But the disease is still taking a heavy toll, with about one million Ugandans infected out of a total population of 24-million.
A massive public education campaign helped drop the infection rate to about five percent. Condom use is widespread, the average age of first sexual contact has been raised and the average number of sexual partners has been reduced.
The government’s latest awareness campaign promotes the “A,B,C,D” of HIV - “abstain,” change “behavior,” use “condoms,” or “die”.
“We made it our highest priority to convince our people to return to their traditional values of chastity and faithfulness or, failing that, to use condoms,” Museveni told drug company executives in Washington last month. “The alternative was decimation.”
Prevention is affordable but drugs to treat the infected are not. They cost about $26 a month, while Uganda spends about $3,50 on health care per citizen annually.
First lady Lara Bush met on Thursday with HIV-positive children at a centre in Botswana’s capital of Gaborone where they and their parents are treated, counselled and given free Aids drugs.
The US aid is “showing people here what the real face of America is like, the compassion that Americans have for the people here who are suffering with AIDS,” she said, sitting between two 9-year-olds with HIV.
Bush’s $15-billion Aids plan would target prevention and treatment assistance to a total of 14 hard-hit countries—two in the Caribbean and a dozen in Africa. In Washington on Thursday, a House panel has approved only two-thirds of the $3-billion it had authorised for the first year of Bush’s battle plan for global Aids.
Administration officials have said they can live with the cutback, but Democrats and Aids activists say US credibility would suffer if Congress does not allot the full $3-billion called for by law.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters in Pretoria on Thursday that the administration will be aggressive in making sure that whatever money Congress appropriates for Bush’s Aids proposal goes for “worthwhile programmes that deal with education, deal with teaching young people to abstain, be faithful [and] use contraceptives”.
“We’re only going to be investing in those programmes that will have a demonstrated payoff and we can see results,” Powell said.
Turning to another crisis in Africa, Powell said Bush is likely to decide within days on the role the United States will play in enforcing a ceasefire in Liberia, nation on the west coast of the continent that is embroiled in brutal civil unrest.
He said peacekeeping troops from West African nations should lead the way into Liberia, with the United States providing mostly support at first.
West African nations plan to send an initial contingent of 1 000 troops within the next two weeks and are asking the United States to contribute 1 500 troops to the force. Sapa-AP