By Ben Maclennan

Business Day (South Africa) 8 March 2002

Former United States president Jimmy Carter has urged President Thabo Mbeki to learn lessons from poorer African countries that have been much more effective in fighting AIDS.

Speaking to journalists after meeting the president in Cape Town on Friday morning, Carter called for Mbeki to give "full and unequivocal support" to anti-AIDS programmes.

He said the AIDS issue in this country had been "grossly distorted" by the controversy over Mbeki's attitude to the disease and his aversion to antiretroviral drugs.

Also at the meeting were Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Bill Gates senior, co-chairman of the Gates Foundation, who is accompanying Carter on a tour to assess AIDS in Africa.

Carter heads the Carter Center, which he founded in 1982 to address public policy issues including disease prevention in the developing world.

He said he and Gates believed South Africa had not made "adequate progress" in preventing new cases of AIDS, which were increasing "by leaps and bounds every day".

It is estimated that a quarter of a million South Africans die with AIDS every year.

"There are a lot of other countries that have much less wealth per capita and in total, and practically no business infrastructure to help them, that have done superb jobs with minimal expenditure emphasising the prevention of AIDS," Carter said.

Senegal and Uganda were two examples of this.

"One of the things we discussed with President Mbeki was if there is a determination of things that have worked in poor countries, that might work here, how can they be combined into a cohesive programme, with full and unequivocal support from the top leaders, that is the president, and then what would it take to finance them.

"What we thought was, once a comprehensive programme could be evolved, which might be the best ever, we would be glad to help find sources of funding."

He said Mbeki and the minister "claim that they're doing all they can, that they have a very fine programme".

"I think that still remains to be seen," Carter said.

He and Gates were "very touched" by their visit on Thursday, with former president Nelson Mandela, to a Soweto clinic running AIDS education and prevention programmes, and by watching prospective mothers discovering they were HIV-positive.

One of the things they pointed out to Mbeki and the minister was the "emotional impact" of the clinic, where they baby-sat HIV-positive infants.

They had also asked Mbeki why the government had taken Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa to task when he tried to expand mother-to-child HIV transmission prevention sites beyond the two official pilot sites in the province.