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International News

Canadian Prime Minister Sidesteps AIDS Debate During Visit to South Africa

April 8, 2002

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien refused to criticize South Africa's war on AIDS this weekend -- even as Canadian diplomats released documents lamenting President Thabo Mbeki's lack of leadership in fighting the disease. The Prime Minister squirmed Sunday at a joint press conference with Mbeki, who defended his government's decision to hold off on distributing the AIDS drug nevirapine to pregnant women.

At a news conference later, Chrétien said, "This is a South African problem that has to be resolved here. I'm not to comment on the particular problems of South Africa because I don't want him to come and tell me what to do with some problems in Canada." Chrétien is on a six-nation tour of Africa to discuss an action plan for the continent ahead of the Group of Eight leading nations (G-8) summit in Alberta in June.

A document released by the Canadian High Commission this week said, "the Government of South Africa is not perceived as providing the leadership and support required to combat the pandemic. This perception has been reinforced by controversial messages conveyed by President Mbeki and various other ministers. President Mbeki has publicly questioned the linkage between HIV and AIDS," the document states, noting the recent government condemnation of a report by its main research council naming HIV/AIDS as South Africa's number one killer.

One Canadian official said, "There is no doubt this is a health issue, a constitutional issue and a political issue." He indicated that the confusion caused by Mbeki's statements about HIV has not helped matters. "You couldn't design a worse communications strategy," he added.

Former South African president Nelson Mandela, whom Chrétien will meet briefly today before flying to London for the funeral of the Queen Mother, has called for swifter action in fighting AIDS. "We must not continue to be debating, to be arguing, when people are dying," Mandela said in February.

Back to other CDC news for April 8, 2002

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Toronto Star
04.08.03; Allan Thompson

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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