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US Congressman Slams South Africa's AIDS Policies - 2002-04-09

A key U.S. congressman has sharply criticized the South African government's AIDS policies, saying the government lacks leadership.

Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, told reporters in Cape Town Monday that the South African government's position on AIDS is "frustrating" and "tragic". He warned that the policy may affect U.S. assistance to Pretoria.

The U.S. congressman, who is leading a five-member congressional delegation, made the comment at the end of an eight-day tour of Africa. Earlier, the U.S. delegation visited Mali, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Swaziland.

Mr. Kolbe says if the government allowed women giving birth to receive anti-retroviral drugs, the AIDS mortality rate for infants would be cut in half. The South African government has been reluctant to administer the drugs, expressing concern about their toxicity.

The drug, Nevirapine, has been shown to significantly reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. South African President Thabo Mbeki has questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, and his nevirapine policy has been criticized by AIDS activists, labor unions and church groups.

There are more people with HIV-AIDS in South Africa than in any other country in the world. About five-million of South Africa's 45 million people are infected with the deadly disease. That is one in nine South Africans.

Some information for this report provided by AFP.