MANDELA, CARTER, GATES FIGHT AIDS
By Mike Cohen
AP 7 March 2002
Johannesburg -- Former South African
President Nelson Mandela joined former President Carter and Bill
Gates Sr., the father of Microsoft billionaire Bill
Gates, Thursday in the battle against Africa's AIDS epidemic.
At a function staged at the Zola clinic in Soweto, a vast sprawling
township on Johannesburg's outskirts, the three men cradled tiny HIV positive babies, and called for treatment to be made
available to AIDS sufferers and for an end to the stigmatization of those
suffering from the disease.
Mandela, still widely revered three years after stepping down as
president, has become an increasingly outspoken critic of the South
African government's refusal to make AIDS drugs widely available to
HIV positive mothers to lessen the chances of them passing the virus on
to their children.
"It is necessary here to be broad-minded, not to feel that your ego has
been touched, if you listen to what the public is saying," he said
Mandela's comments were directed at Mbhazima Shilowa, the governor
of the Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Mandela praised Shilowa for widening access to treatment at public
However, his remarks could also be viewed as veiled criticism of his
successor, President Thabo Mbeki, who has questioned the link
between HIV and AIDS, and has questioned the safety of AIDS drugs.
Mandela conceded that there was a risk that the drugs were toxic, but
said people should have the freedom to take them.
Carter also urged that everyone be given access to treatment.
"My personal belief is that (AIDS drugs) are effective and safe," he said.
A young HIV-positive mother, who gave her first name as Mpumelelo,
echoed his view. "All we are asking is to have treatment so we can bring
up our children," she said.
The Gates Foundation, funded by Bill Gates and overseen by his father,
has funded research on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission
of HIV at the Soweto clinic.
The head of the Soweto clinic's AIDS program, James McIntyre, said
13,000 women were offered counseling on the dangers of HIV last year
and 90 percent of them agreed to be tested for the virus. About 3,000
woman were given AIDS drugs last year, a figure expected to reach
8,000 this year.
Mandela urged those with AIDS not to give up hope, and urged
communities to accept those who contracted the disease. "The stigma
(associated with AIDS) is sometimes more dangerous that the terminal
disease itself," he said.
An estimated 4.7 million South Africans are HIV-positive, more than
any other country in the world.