- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

Former President Bill Clinton said yesterday a new round of debt relief, aimed at countries with high rates of HIV infections and AIDS, is the next step in helping make Africa more stable.
Mr. Clinton returned this week from an extended trip that included a five-day tour of Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Mozambique and South Africa, during which he promoted economic development and efforts to fight the disease.
About 70 percent of the world's AIDS cases are in Africa. Mr. Clinton said the disease is a severe threat to nations such as Botswana, which has the world's highest infection rate, because it risks eliminating a large part of an entire generation. He said some countries are already suffering economically because they can't staff schools or factories with able-bodied workers due to the spread of the disease.
Mr. Clinton praised the Bush administration's June offer to boost the U.S. contribution to the international AIDS fund by $300 million, but he said, "our fair share would probably be about a billion dollars more than that."
"That sounds like a lot of money, but they asked for an $80 billion increase in defense and homeland defense this year, and what I want to say to you is turning the AIDS epidemic around is part of our defense," Mr. Clinton said. "Every country with a raging AIDS rate, especially the African countries and Caribbean countries, have large numbers of people in this country. So we have done more, but we should do more."
Mr. Clinton spoke to a crowd in the Ronald Reagan Building in the District, at the invitation of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He did not discuss military action in Iraq, an issue some in the crowd were expecting him to address.
He pointed to several success stories from Africa, including Uganda, which over the last decade has cut its HIV and AIDS infection rates in half to 16.6 percent of the population, mainly through education and prevention programs.
He also proclaimed the success of initial debt-relief efforts, which he said worked because nations were required to put the money they saved from canceled debt payments into education, health care or economic development. But Mr. Clinton said the earlier round of debt relief didn't apply to many countries that missed the economic thresholds, adding that they are facing dramatic economic problems in the future because of AIDS.
The next round, he said, should "include all countries with infectious rates of, let's say, 15 percent or more, as long as they put all the money into health care."
He praised the Bush administration for continuing the overtures Mr. Clinton made during his presidency.
"Africa now matters to America, across party lines. I feel good about where America is," he said.
Mr. Clinton said part of the challenge is to change what he called "continental profiling."
"A lot of people still see Africa almost as a country rather than a continent," he said. "They really don't understand the variety of conditions that exist among nations.
"I think the problem of ignorance of Africa is one the world will pay for if it is not corrected," he said.
Several Cabinet officials, ambassadors and others who served in Mr. Clinton's administration attended the speech, leading the former president to remark: "It's wonderful that so many of you hung around Washington, so I can always stir up a good crowd when I need it."


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