Sat, Jul 12, 2003 - Page 6 News List

US wants Uganda's AIDS model

PANDEMIC CONTAINED The East African country managed to stem its once spiraling rate of HIV infection by stressing behavioral changes, monogamy and condom use


US President George W. Bush wants Uganda's journey out of the dark scourge of AIDS to serve as a model for his US$15 billion global initiative to contain the pandemic.

Bush was to meet yesteray with President Yoweri Museveni and tour an AIDS clinic in Uganda, the fourth stop on his five-nation tour of the region of the world most seriously affected by AIDS. His trip ends today in Nigeria.

Uganda is a model for stemming its once spiraling rate of HIV infection. It stands in sharp contrast to Botswana -- another stop on Bush's African journey -- which is struggling with the world's highest HIV infection rate.

Bush's five-year AIDS plan is modeled after a program in Uganda, which stresses abstinence, monogamy and condom use.

Bush spent several hours Thursday in Botswana where almost four of 10 adults carry the AIDS virus.

The country recently launched a public program to give free AIDS drugs and treatment to anyone who needs them, a first-of-its-kind effort in Africa.

"The people of this nation have the courage and the resolve to defeat this disease and you will have a partner in the US," Bush said to applause Thursday before lunch with Botswana's President Festus Mogae.

Uganda has managed to put the brakes on a rising HIV infection rate that had decimated the country in the 1980s and 1990s. About 1 million Ugandans are infected, out of a total population of 24 million.

A massive public education campaign helped drop the infection rate to about 5 percent. Condom use is widespread, the average age of first sexual contact has been raised and the average number of sexual partners has been reduced.

The government's latest awareness campaign promotes the ``A,B,C,D'' of HIV -- "abstain," change "behavior," use "condoms," or "die."

"We made it our highest priority to convince our people to return to their traditional values of chastity and faithfulness or, failing that, to use condoms," Museveni told drug company executives at a meeting in Washington last month.

"The alternative was decimation," he said.

Prevention is affordable but drugs to treat the infected are not. They cost about US$26 a month, while Uganda spends about US$3.50 on health care per citizen annually.

Bush's US$15 billion AIDS plan would target prevention and treatment assistance to a total of 14 hard-hit countries -- two in the Caribbean and a dozen in Africa.

In Washington on Thursday, a House panel has approved only two-thirds of the US$3 billion it had authorized for the first year of Bush's battle plan for global AIDS.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters in Pretoria on Thursday that the administration will be aggressive in making sure that whatever amounts of money Congress appropriates for Bush's AIDS proposal goes for "worthwhile programs that deal with education, deal with teaching young people to abstain, be faithful [and] use contraceptives."

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