August 21, 2006

Obama criticizes S. African response to AIDS

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 urged President Thabo Mbeki to take a
tougher stand against Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

South African AIDS activists say Health Minister Manto
Tshabalala-Msimang has caused 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-Msimang 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."

Speaking later to journalists during the South African leg
of an African tour, Obama said the government in neighboring
Zimbabwe had been a disaster for that country.

He urged Mbeki to take a more vocal stand against Mugabe,
who he said continued to use conspiracies and plots to hold on
to power.

"South Africa has tried a strategy of quiet diplomacy...I
don't think it has been as successful as it could have been. I
would like to see a more vocal policy in respect of human
rights and pressing the Mugabe government to right the ship."

Obama told AIDS activists 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."

Activists at last week's global AIDS conference in Toronto
were critical of South Africa's promotion of garlic and lemon
as a solution to the AIDS crisis.

South Africa has one of the world's highest HIV/AIDS rates
with one in nine -- a total of five million people -- infected.

The government yielded to pressure in 2003 and launched a
public ARV program which officials describe as one of the
largest in the world.

However, activists say drugs still only reach a fraction of
those with AIDS, which kills more than 800 South Africans a