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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
US Senate Majority Leader Urges South Africa to Grasp
Dina Kraft
August 22, 2003
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 paid out.

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 (R-Minn.).