- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2004

One of the world’s most influential advocacy groups for combating HIV/AIDS, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), has called the South African government to task for failing to honor its promise to provide AIDS sufferers with anti-retroviral drugs. South African President Thabo Mbeki had agreed last November to provide patients with these drugs, which can dramatically prolong their lives. AIDS and HIV patients that are treated with them also become less contagious. South African officials have said they will not begin providing drugs until next month.

“We are very concerned about what we see as totally unjustified delays in drug procurement,” said TAC National Treasurer Mark Heywood. “We believe this is costing peoples’ lives.”

Statistics on AIDS in Africa are difficult to compile and hotly debated. UNAIDS, the United Nations AIDS body, estimates that almost 30 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV. South Africa, widely acknowledged as the country hardest hit by AIDS, is estimated to have more than five million people who are HIV-positive in a population of 45 million.

One of the most significant consequences of the epidemic is the number of orphans it creates. UNICEF estimates that 11 million children under the age of 15 in Africa have lost one or both parents to AIDS. The World Bank predicts that if the problem isn’t contained, South Africa could eventually suffer economic collapse.

Many observers, especially from large multilateral organizations, believe that there is a direct relationship between success and spending when it comes to AIDS. Consider this statement by Debrework Zewdie, the director of the World Bank Global HIV/Aids program: “People say that prevention programs have failed, but in no African country — not even in Uganda — has there been a properly funded AIDS prevention program.” Since Uganda has achieved great success in combating the epidemic, it has demonstrated that much can be done with little. But instead of highlighting Uganda’s success, Mrs. Zewdie focused on spending levels.

Rich countries should do their part to combat AIDS, and President Bush should start using political capital to get on track his $15 billion pledge to fight AIDS over five years. The administration is far behind on its own goals for that initiative.

But African governments must also be taken to task. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), launched in 2001 and conceived of by African leaders, focused on making financial aid contingent on reform and results. That is the right approach. The governments of AIDS-afflicted countries should be rewarded for progress and held to account for failures. The TAC deserves credit for doing so.

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