In a move that could threaten U.S. funding for AIDS programs in South Africa, South Africa's minister of trade and industry, Alec Erwin, on Thursday told a U.S. congressional delegation that the epidemic in the country is being "well-managed" by the government, the Chicago Tribune reports. Erwin told the delegation, led by Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), that he does not believe the findings of studies suggesting that AIDS is reducing the life expectancy of South Africans or that the disease is having an adverse impact on the nation's economy. As many as 5 million South Africans are infected with HIV, and the government does not offer antiretroviral drugs to treat those who carry the virus. Frist told Erwin that he finds it "hard to believe" that AIDS is not having an impact in the country and that he wants to "encourage leadership here to recognize the magnitude of the problem." He also said he was disappointed that neither South African president Thabo Mbeki or health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang would meet with the delegation.
While Frist stopped short of saying Erwin's comments would result in decreased grants from the five-year, $15 billion AIDS initiative to South Africa, he did note that the attitude of South African government leaders could ultimately play a role in funding decisions. "If the United States government is going to be investing taxpayer money, we need to make sure that money is invested with the full cooperation and support of governments who will be recipients," he said. The delegation, which also includes senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), and John Warner (R-Va.), also will meet with government and health leaders in Mozambique, Botswana, and Namibia before returning to the United States on August 29.