Associated Press (08.21.03) - Friday, August 22, 2003
On Thursday, visiting US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-
Tenn.) suggested that South Africa's government take the scope
of its AIDS pandemic more seriously. "I want to encourage the
political leadership here to recognize the magnitude of the
problem," Frist told journalists.
The majority leader and other senators in the congressional
delegation to Africa will be instrumental in deciding how $15
billion, pledged by President Bush to combat AIDS, will be
The South African government, under pressure to take stronger
action against HIV/AIDS, instructed the Health Ministry
earlier this month to develop a plan for distributing AIDS
drugs - a move Frist applauded. The government had earlier
refused to supply its people with AIDS medicine through the
public health system.
The senators' first stop Thursday was Soweto's Chris Hani
Baragwanath Hospital. Doctors there spoke of the frustration
of not being able to properly treat most patients because AIDS
drugs are still not available at prices their mostly
impoverished patients could afford. The handful who are
treated are part of clinical trial tests.
"I can't afford medicine, it's too expensive," said Busi, an
unemployed HIV-positive woman who broke into sobs as she told
the senators her story. Like many others, she is wary of going
public with her status because of the intense stigma of having
HIV/AIDS. Busi, who would only give her first name, said she
is often sick, but is only given basic antibiotics to keep
opportunistic infections at bay.
At a nearby AIDS orphanage funded partly by American money,
the senators played games of cards with children and watched
them as they colored. They sang along with the youths as they
belted out nursery rhymes and songs, but noted the same
children could die without treatment. "It's a human tragedy.
That is why we have to do everything we can to get drugs to
these kids," said Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio).
The other senators on the delegation are John Warner (R- Va.),
Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Norm Coleman