South Africa's weak battle against AIDS

South Africa's progress in the fight against AIDS has been weak, despite government assurances to the contrary.

By Julia Scott
Published March 1, 2005 8:13PM (EST)

Last week, President Bush issued a short statement congratulating South African President Thabo Mbeki on his country's accomplishments in its first decade of democracy, and singled out South Africa's "great concern over tuberculosis, AIDS, malaria, and other diseases."

The statement may have provoked confusion by anyone following the AIDS pandemic in that country, as it was recently revealed that South Africa's death toll jumped by 62 percent among adults over 15 in the five years ending in 2002. Mbeki has downplayed the AIDS crisis in South Africa and maintained that there is no link between HIV and AIDS. Now it appears his new antiretroviral program, due to slow implementation and a lack of drugs and healthcare workers, is a bust. Overwhelming demand for care has led the government to push its treatment target back a year.

In 2004, Congress appropriated $2.4 billion for HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria spending abroad, mostly destined for antiretroviral therapy and prevention programs, including abstinence education. South Africa will receive a proposed $130 million this year with the goal of treating 20,000 people -- awfully slow progress in a population of 45 million people, where 29 percent of pregnant women were living with HIV in 2003.

Julia Scott

San Francisco-based freelance journalist Julia Scott writes about water and energy issues for various publications. She also covers the environment for Bay Area News Group, a chain of newspapers in Northern California.

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