Business Day (South Africa) 10 March 2002

The African National Congress has reacted angrily to former United States president Jimmy Carter's statements on how President Thabo Mbeki should respond to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.

"We find it alarming that president Carter is willing to treat our people as guinea pigs, in the interest of pharmaceutical companies, which he would not do in his own country," the ANC said in media statement in Johannesburg.

"We do not understand why US citizens urge this drug upon us when the health authorities in their own country do not allow its use for mother-to-child-transmission.

"One of the reasons for this is that these authorities say that there is insufficient data about issues of the safety of the drug.

Carter, the former US president, urged Mbeki to learn lessons from poorer African countries that have been much more effective in fighting AIDS.

"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," he said. Senegal and Uganda were two examples of this.

The former US president is on a tour to several African countries with Bill Gates senior, co-chair of the Gates Foundation.

He made the comments after he met Mbeki and Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang in Cape Town on Friday.

And on Saturday, the ANC responded: "We are therefore very surprised at the public comments made by president Carter after this meeting.

"We believe that honesty should characterise the conduct of public affairs. The comments he and others made after the meeting with President Mbeki indicate the true purpose of his visit to our country."

The ruling party said Carter's visit was arranged without the knowledge of the government.

The organisation went on to say it would like to assure Carter that the government was firmly committed to meeting the health needs of the people of South Africa.

"For this, we do not need the interference and contemptuous attitude of president Carter or anybody else. As South Africans, we have the possibility to find solutions to our problems, as the people of the US have."

"We are not arrogant to presume that we know what the US should do to respond to its many domestic challenges. Nobody from elsewhere in the world should presume they have a superior right to tell us what to do with our own challenges."

The government, and Mbeki in particular, has come under severe criticism for not allowing a roll out of the anti-retroviral drug - nevirapine - beyond pilot sites in the country.