August 21, 2006

Senator Obama says to get African HIV test

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 and said he planned to be tested for HIV
while visiting Kenya later on his African trip.

South African AIDS activists say Health Minister Manto
Tshabalala-Msimang has created confusion by pushing traditional
medicines and a recipe of garlic, beetroot, lemon and African
potatoes to combat AIDS while underplaying the role of
anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.

Obama said Tshabalala-Mismang was making a terrible

"On the treatment side the information being provided by
the minister of health is not accurate," he told reporters
outside an AIDS clinic in Cape Town's Khayelitsha township.

"It is not an issue of Western science versus African
science, it is just science and it's not right."

Obama later told local AIDS activists that he planned to
take an HIV test during the Kenya portion of his trip, winning
immediate praise from South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

"That would be very good," Tutu said after holding talks
with Obama. "It encourages other people who may be less brave
to want to do that. It also helps to deal with the question of
the stigma."

Obama's blast at South Africa's AIDS policies follows an
week of criticism by activists over its decision to promote
garlic and lemon as a solution to its AIDS crisis at last
week's global AIDS conference in Toronto.

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.