A US congressman who’s also a physician is traveling to Uganda to see how the country is slowing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Dr. Dave Weldon cared for AIDS patients before being elected to Congress and says being a physician gives him a different perspective on the pandemic.
“My knowledge of treating AIDS,” he says, “puts me in a position where I can quickly determine what’s going on, what is a problem, how is it being addressed, how is it not being addressed.”
Uganda is one of the few African countries that addressed the pandemic early on. As a result, its infection rate is lower than that of many other countries on the continent. But despite the success, AIDS still has taken a toll. Uganda has a population of nearly 25 million, more than a half million of whom, according to UNAIDS, are believed to be living with HIV/AIDS. UNAIDS also says more than 80 thousand others died from the disease in 2001 and nearly 900 thousand children have lost one or both parents to the disease by the time they were 15 years old.
Congressman Weldon, a Florida Republican, is a member of the Appropriations Committee, which produces spending bills that allocate money to government programs. He spoke with English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about his trip to Uganda.
He says, “Uganda is a fascinating place. While most of Africa has seen their AIDS rate double in the last ten years, Uganda has seen its AIDS rate cut more than in half. And what’s particularly intriguing about Uganda is that they did it with very little foreign help.”
Dr. Weldon says the US Government is committing $15 billion over the next five years under President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. He says, “I want to see to it that it is spent in a way that really helps the people who really have the problem.”
The congressman is a strong supporter of education and behavior change in fighting the pandemic and is critical of those who base prevention plans on the use of condoms. Congressman Weldon says, “There are a lot of people who just want to throw condoms at this problem and they turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to reality. And reality is people will change their behavior if they’re just given the facts.” He says Uganda is a good example of how education and behavior change can work.
He also prefers that the United States control how its AIDS money is spent. While he believes in supporting the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, he says. “It’s highly appropriate to ensure that US taxpayer money goes to programs that really work.” He says, “There are a lot of people involved in the AIDS treatment movement all around the world who don’t want to face the facts. And the facts are this is a sexually transmitted disease. That you can modify people’s behavior if they get the right information and they get educated properly.”