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Clinton Hails New S. African Government's Policies on HIV/AIDS

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrapped up her 11-day tour of Africa with a brief stop in Cape Verde. The seven-nation trip was aimed at emphasizing the Obama administration's interest in Africa, and Clinton pressed for good government and democratic reforms.

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By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 8, 2009

PRETORIA, South Africa, Aug. 7 -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday welcomed the new South African government's approach to fighting HIV/AIDS after years in which officials questioned the link between the two and suggested such "cures" as eating beets and garlic.

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"We have the challenge everyone is aware of. We have to make up for some lost time, but we are looking forward," Clinton said at a U.S.-funded clinic where patients receive antiretroviral drugs.

The clinic visit underscored a new juncture in U.S.-South African relations after years of tensions over AIDS, the Iraq war and other issues. Clinton wants to improve ties with a country regarded as Africa's economic powerhouse, and she and the South African foreign minister agreed to work together more closely on such issues as climate change and nuclear nonproliferation.

Clinton was accompanied to several of her meetings by Eric Goosby, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator. That "shows how eager we are to broaden and deepen our relationship" with the new government led by President Jacob Zuma, she said.

South Africa has the highest number of HIV-positive people in the world, with about one in five adults, or nearly 6 million people, infected. But under Zuma's predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, authorities questioned whether HIV caused AIDS and were skeptical about treating it with antiretroviral drugs. One of Mbeki's health ministers urged HIV-positive people to cure themselves by eating lemons, beets and garlic.

The policies caused the premature deaths of an estimated 365,000 people, according to a recent study by Harvard University researchers.

Goosby said in an interview that he was "thrilled" about the AIDS policies of Zuma, who has pledged to halve the incidence of HIV in the country.

The U.S. government's global AIDS program has a major presence in South Africa, spending $550 million a year on treatment and testing. Clinton said the U.S. program "stands ready to work with the South African government in whatever way the government believes is effective."

Clinton's delegation toured a clinic in the poor mining town of Cullinan, outside Pretoria, that is funded by the U.S. and South African governments. She was greeted in the courtyard of the low-slung building by about two dozen children in pink and red T-shirts, some of them patients at the clinic, others orphans whose parents had died of AIDS-related illnesses.

Before the facility opened in 2006, the nearest clinic that treated people with HIV/AIDS was 40 miles away, and transportation there was too expensive for many residents, officials said.

"It has changed life around this place as people used to know it," South Africa's new health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, told Clinton after she toured the clinic.

A young woman who has been treated at the clinic, Simangele Ncube, told Clinton that when she tested positive for HIV, "I felt like the world was collapsing in on me."

But "here I am -- and I look good," she said.

More than 900 people die of AIDS-related causes each day in South Africa. U.S. Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), the head of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds foreign aid programs, said at the ceremony that she hopes to see more assistance going toward prevention, rather than just treatment.

South Africa is the second stop on Clinton's seven-nation swing through Africa, a trip aimed at improving ties with the continent and addressing security, economic and development concerns.

One of Clinton's priorities is building closer ties with what she called "major and emerging global powers," including South Africa and countries such as China, India and Brazil.

The Obama administration is especially hopeful that South Africa will push the authoritarian president of neighboring Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, to cease harassment of opposition leaders and the media.

South Africa's foreign minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said her government was trying to persuade Mugabe to make more progress on a power-sharing agreement signed in February with the opposition. But South Africa gave no indication Friday that it would go as far as the United States wanted.


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