Clinton Visits AIDS Projects in Zambia

The Associated Press
Saturday, July 21, 2007; 8:36 PM

LUSAKA, Zambia -- Former President Bill Clinton said Saturday that cheap anti-AIDS drugs were no magic bullet for ending the epidemic ravaging Africa, and that the continent needs better overall health care.

Affordable medicine "will soon be not much of an issue anywhere," Clinton said during a one-day visit to the southern African nation of Zambia, which has been ravaged by AIDS.

"How cruel it would be if people continue to die because of inadequate health care facilities in rural areas," he said while touring a new drug distribution warehouse in Lusaka financed by his charitable foundation.

Since leaving office in 2001, Clinton has negotiated lower prices on AIDS drugs for poor countries in Africa and Asia, helping to extend tens of thousands of lives. The effort, however, is still hampered by overstretched facilities, stigma and an acute lack of skilled staff.

"When we look to the future, we have to ask ourselves how the rest of the system can catch up with the medicine," Clinton said.

Zambia has put more than 93,000 HIV-positive people on anti-retroviral treatment over the past few years, with help from the United States and other partners. But about 16 percent of the population is HIV-positive, and the country has a serious shortage of health care workers.

Clinton's first visit to Zambia was the third stop on an African tour that also took him to South Africa and Malawi. He will fly to Tanzania on Sunday.

Zambian officials vied for photos with Clinton. "You were great in office, and you are even greater out of office," Zambia's health minister, Brian Chituwo, said in a speech.

Clinton toured the warehouse with Philippe Douste-Blazy, chairman of the board of UNITAID, an organization formed last year by France and 19 other nations that earmarked some airline tax revenues to fight HIV/AIDS in developing countries.

The Clinton Foundation and UNITAID announced a deal in May to lower the cost of back-up drugs to HIV-positive people with resistance to standard treatment.

Clinton also presided over a youth soccer tournament in Lusaka and stressed the importance of HIV testing. "Most of the people in Africa, and in the world, who have the HIV virus ... do not know it," Clinton told a crowd of children and dignitaries.

© 2007 The Associated Press