Obama slams South African AIDS response

As reported by Reuters today:

By Gordon Bell

CAPE
TOWN (Reuters) – Barack Obama, the only black U.S. senator, criticized
South African leaders on Monday for their slow response to AIDS, saying
they were wrong to contrast “African science and Western science.”

AIDS
activists say Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is creating
deadly confusion by pushing traditional medicines and a recipe of
garlic, beetroot, lemon and African potatoes to combat AIDS while
underplaying the role of ARVs.

“The minister of health here has
tended to equate traditional medicines to anti-retrovirals (ARV), so on
the treatment side the information being provided by the minister of
health is not accurate,” he said.

“It is not an issue of Western
science versus African science, it is just science and it’s not right,”
Obama told reporters outside an AIDS clinic in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha
township.

Tshabalala-Msimang has frequently questioned the
efficacy and safety of ARVs and says her approach is aimed at promoting
basic nutrition as a bulwark against becoming ill.

South Africa
has one of the world’s highest HIV/AIDS caseloads with one out of nine
people — or five million South Africans — infected.

The
government relented to pressure in 2003 and launched a public ARV
program which officials describe as one of the largest in the world.
But activists say drugs still only reach a fraction of those living
with AIDS, which still kills more than 800 South Africans every day.

Speaking
during the South African leg of an African tour, Obama — an Illinois
Democrat whose father was Kenyan — said the battle against AIDS was
being confounded by denial both within black communities and by the
government.

“I think that is something that is going to have to
be addressed, you have got enormous infection rates (but) there is not
enough public education,” he said.

There had to be a fundamental
change in behavior and that change would not happen until the
leadership stood up and spoke about the importance of safe sex
practices.

Men, in particular, needed to be better educated about
the risk they posed to women through unprotected sex, Obama said,
adding he hoped to pass this message onto Mbeki and other government
ministers.

Obama met health workers at the clinic and talked to
HIV infected mothers linked to Mothers2Mothers, a U.S.-sponsored
support program to help stop the transmission of HIV to babies.

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