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U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Visits Africa


Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt and a group of senior U.S. government officials leave Washington Friday for a 10-day four-nation Africa visit. Their trip will take them to South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Rwanda, four nations that are benefiting from President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and Malaria Initiative.

Bill Steiger is director of the office of global health affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He told VOA the purpose of Secretary Leavitt’s trip is to observe how these U.S.-sponsored health programs are working.

“Secretary Leavitt is taking his introductory visit to Africa. The Department and the U.S. government have extensive programs on health across the African continent focused on HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and influenza among other diseases, including also helping African governments and other institutions to provide health care to their people. And he’s going to look specifically at what U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is doing in support of major presidential initiatives, including the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Fund and the President’s Malaria Initiative,” he said.

Steiger said indications are that U.S.-sponsored health programs in Africa are being managed properly.

“Our indications are that things are going extremely well with both of the programs. The achievements have been extraordinary in a relatively short amount of time…and the number of people we have on treatment, over a million Africans on anti-retroviral treatment because of the President’s plan, the number of people who have benefited from the President’s Malaria Initiative, more than six million people helped with bed nets and indoor spraying and new medications are, we think, a great example of the successful partnership that the United States has with African governments, non-governmental organizations, faith-based groups, and community groups as well,” he said.

Steiger said First Lady Laura Bush’s visit to Africa earlier this year was a further demonstration of the seriousness of the Bush administration’s commitment to Africa.

Among the countries Secretary Leavitt will be visiting is South Africa, a country that is considered to have one of the highest number of AIDS patients in Africa. Just this week, President Thabo Mbeki fired deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, credited for putting together South Africa’s first strategic AIDS plan.

Steiger said Secretary Leavitt is not going to South Africa to get into local politics. Instead he said the Secretary wants to see how U.S.-sponsored health programs are working.

“Our programs, we think, are working very well in South Africa in partnership with government and with a number of other non-governmental organizations. So the Secretary is not there to get into local politics, but he wants to see on the ground firsthand how things have been working. And so we’ll be going to not only sites around Johannesburg and Pretoria but in the urban settings at which we’re taking care of orphans and also patients who are on retroviral treatment in the clinical arena, but also going down to Kwazulu Natal to a very rural site to look at how we’ve used a platform of research, originally what was a biomedical research site and turned it into a delivery site for care and treatment and prevention activities,” he said.

Steiger said PEPFAR and the President’s Malaria Initiative would be two of President Bush’s great legacies. He hopes Congress would support the president by reauthorizing the funding for PEPFAR for five more years.

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