O'Neill, Bono Road Show at HIV/AIDS Epicenter

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5.24.02_tn.jpg

5.24.02 - Reuters

By Glenn Somerville and Nick Kotch

SOWETO, South Africa (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury chief Paul O'Neill and Irish rock singer Bono took their road show on Friday to the world's biggest hospital in South Africa, where they were told how aid for HIV/AIDS victims had been wasted.

The world's most powerful finance minister and the frontman of rock band U2 expressed shock and anger at tales of the mismanagement of foreign aid meant for pregnant mothers infected with HIV and their children.

At a private briefing at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital -- a 2,888-bed hospital listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's biggest -- hospital staff and donor agency officials told them that although $50 million came in yearly for AIDS, most of the 2,000 HIV positive mothers at the unit, who would need just $2 million for treatment, remained untreated.

The drug Nevirapine, developed by private German company Boehringer Ingelheim, has been shown to cut by half the risk of an HIV-infected mother passing the virus to her baby.

South Africa is the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS pandemic hitting Africa with estimates of one in nine South Africans infected with HIV/AIDS -- around five million people -- and 70,000 to 100,000 babies born HIV-positive each year.

"I am speechless," said Bono, known for his interest in African development issues.

O'Neill, his voice quivering with anger, told reporters: "This whole business about having so much money...and it not going primarily to treatment is just a stunning revelation."

"Before we ask for more money, for God's sake what are we doing with what we've got?"

As the unusual pairing toured Soweto, students protesting poor conditions in schools rioted in the city center a few miles away, bringing traffic and commerce to a standstill.

O'Neill dressed in a dark tie, dark suit and white shirt, and Bono, hands in pocket, unshaven, with gold earrings and ever-present sunglasses, were welcomed by a female choir singing a local Zulu song "All who are outside, call them."

They left the hospital to visit a housing project in Protea, Soweto, where Bono was greeted by schoolchildren dancing to the U2 song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." When their tape recorder broke, Bono stepped in to finish the song.

FACTORY TOUR

Earlier Friday, O'Neill and Bono toured the Ford motor plant in Pretoria, the biggest auto assembly plant in sub-Saharan Africa with a workforce of 3,500 workers. It is considered to have an exemplary HIV/AIDS policy.

"I am saying to Bono, it's great when you have big industrial companies like this working on the (HIV/AIDS) problem," O'Neill told reporters during a tour of the plant.

Bono replied: "I love hearing the secretary like this."

President Thabo Mbeki has drawn international condemnation for his controversial stance on AIDS, questioning the link between HIV and AIDS. But he has recently eased his position.

Bono said "he (Mbeki) is turning. I think we've got to give him a bit of room. I think we've got to stop beating him up."

The pair met Mbeki and Finance Minister Trevor Manuel on Thursday. Bono said he expected to meet the South African leader again before leaving the country.

Friday, O'Neill defended himself against reports that that he was against foreign aid to poor nations.

"I am reading quotes that say 'O'Neill against foreign aid'. It's never, ever been true," he said.

Bono and O'Neill met about a year ago and agreed to a tour of Africa, originally set for late 2001 but delayed because of the September 11 attacks.

O'Neill, an ardent advocate of private enterprise, said he had already seen enough in the opening part of his four-country visit while in Ghana to show that easy and practical solutions to some basic needs were readily available.

O'Neill, Bono and Manuel also discussed issues of African development and NEPAD -- the New Partnership for Africa's Development initiative, which aims to drive Africa's recovery.

Bono and O'Neill are to visit Uganda and then Ethiopia after South Africa, where they were also due to spend the night in a game park. O'Neill returns to Washington on May 31.

Copyright © 2002 Reuters. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on May 24, 2002 4:23 PM.

Bono in South Africa, Africa (May 23-25, 2002) was the previous entry in this blog.

Bono in Uganda, Africa (May 27-28, 2002) is the next entry in this blog.

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