AIDS Warriors; Carter, Gates Sr. Find Hell and Hope in a Continent's Plague
April 15, 2002
It is a Sunday in March, and the Central African Republic is Jimmy Carter's and Bill Gates Sr.'s fifth stop in as many days as they zigzag across Africa to evangelize about AIDS. Together they have met with prostitutes and presidents, traipsed through fetid slums and sipped tea in ornate palaces. Carter has assured Nigerian Christians that Jesus Christ would have wanted adulterers to use condoms; Gates has bottle-fed the baby of an HIV-positive mother in Soweto. They have talked safe sex with African teenagers and pleaded for more action from governments whose countries are drowning in sickness and death. They have visited bleak places, but today's stop in the Central African Republic is the bleakest of all. "It was one of the worst things you could ever see," Carter would later tell Bill Gates Jr., the sponsor of their journey.
One out of every seven people in Central African Republic is infected with HIV. There is only one small clinic in Bangui to care for them, and after a brief sit-down with the government, that is where Carter and Gates want to go. The clinic is a compound of single-story cinder block buildings strewn along a dirt path. Their escort is a Japanese woman who has run the place for the past 10 years. She explains that there is no medicine and little to offer patients beyond food, clean water, HIV counseling and condoms for 30 Central African francs apiece. Dying patients are sent down the road to the only hospital, if there is time.
Bill Gates, Sr. is CEO and co-chairperson with former Microsoft executive Patty Stonesifer, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The hundreds of millions of dollars it distributes annually for vaccine research, disease prevention and care, particularly for HIV/AIDS, exceed the yearly budget of the UN's World Health Organization. One of the most exciting stops on the trip is Nairobi's Kenyatta National Hospital, where the foundation is funding clinical vaccine trials. "It is his dream, his greatest hope," Bill Sr. says of Junior's interest in the project. Because the foundation doesn't have to answer to Congress or voters, "we're the perfect people to take this risk."
04.14.02; Karen DeYoung
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.