Botswana's Mogae chides rich countries on AIDS, debt

Botswana's Mogae chides rich countries on AIDS, debt

The industrialized world and particularly Group of Seven nations should do more to address the double scourge of AIDS and heavy foreign debt crippling southern Africa, Botswana President Festus Mogae said on Tuesday.

Mogae said he was disappointed by the lack of response and accused the U.S. government of making "sympathetic noises" but doing little while African nations reeled on the edge of economic and demographic implosion.

Some 24 million people in Africa have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and millions have died. Infection levels are far higher there than the rest of the world. In Botswana, 36 percent of the adult population is HIV-positive, the highest rate in the world.

The epidemic has crushed the country, leaving it little hope of a speedy recovery. Mogae said life expectancy had fallen by at least 20 years to 47 years and that as many as half the natural deaths occurring in Botswana are HIV related.

Advanced medicines that have significantly prolonged the survival of U.S. and European AIDS sufferers are so expensive that most Africans have no hope of ever getting access to them, Mogae told a news conference at the end of an AIDS conference sponsored by the Harvard AIDS Institute.

Mogae said the inadequate response was particularly frustrating when looked at in context of the West's growing wealth.

"Your wealth in recent years increased by trillions and therefore what we owe is peanuts," Mogae told Reuters after a news conference, referring to Africa's debt.

"It will not affect anybody, not the balance sheets of banks or anybody. It's just a matter of principle. You are insisting on repayment as a matter of principle, but it has no financial consequences for anybody else except the debtor. For him it's a lot of money," he said.

There has been some improvement recently, Mogae said, though offers of loans and drug discounts were still insufficient.

"Pharmaceutical companies have come forward and offered us discounts. Some of these discounts are very generous but (the drugs) are still more than our faint means can allow us to afford and therefore we are still not able to take full advantage of the offer,' Mogae said.

Five major drug companies are negotiating discounts with African countries for some of the leading antiretroviral medications. In October, Glaxo Wellcome reached a deal with Senegal to sell its leading anti AIDS drugs there for about $2 a day.

But in a region where much of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, even that price looks high, Mogae said.

The United Nations estimates that it will cost at least $3 billion a year to fight the epidemic in Africa, a figure that does not include the cost of anti-AIDS drugs.

"If you are dealing with these orders of magnitude, the offers by the pharmaceutical companies may in themselves be generous but still not affordable and that is why I am saying ... they should do more," Mogae said.

Mogae said African countries were prepared to play a role in the financing of HIV treatments, but that they could not do it alone.

"We are saying the rest of the world, including and especially the United States and the rest of the G7, at the governmental level should do something to make it possible for us to access these treatments that are currently available," Mogae said.

Mogae also urged drug companies to allow other countries to make cheaper, generic versions of their drugs.

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