Friday, August 22

SA told: Take Aids seriously

Soweto, South Africa - Visiting US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist suggested Thursday South Africa had to take the scope of the AIDS pandemic sweeping the country more seriously.

Frist said in conversations with South Africa's trade minister he was told Aids was not hurting the country's economy or lowering life expectancy despite assessments by the World Bank and others.

An estimated 4.7 million people, roughly one in nine people, are infected with HIV. An estimated 600 to a 1 000 South Africans die everyday from Aids-related complications.

"I want to encourage the political leadership here to recognize the magnitude of the problem," Frist told journalists.

Frist, a Republican from Tennessee and the other six senators on the delegation, will be instrumental in deciding how the $15bn, pledged by US President George W Bush to combat Aids in Africa, will be paid out.

I'd like to make two points. First, AIDS is a class disease in South Africa. In the west everyone can expect to live with AIDS. In the third world most people can expect to die, as very few people can afford the drugs and livestyle necesary to survive even if they are employed. In South Africa, with our mix of first world and third world economies, if you or someone in your family has a semi-decent job, you can most likely afford the drugs and lifestyle that would allow you to survive. If you don't, you will die. The South African economy will, as the minister said, be less affected by this tragedy then most other countries.

Secondly, more then AIDS drugs are needed to keep people alive. By some estimates a third of the working population is unemployed. Assuming there are 2 people in every family that can earn money, a ninth of all families (5 million people) are without a single breadwinner and destitute. (This is in actual fact much higher given the uneven distribution of wealth in the country) These people would not be able to afford the food and lifestyle necessary to keep them alive, never mind the expensive drug therapies.

If America wants to save these people, they would need to give not only the AIDS drugs, but also welfare support for them and their families. $15 Billion dollars? Say a stipend of $300 per family per month. (Less can be given, but the goal is surely that the people survive, and therefore fresh vegetables and meat is necessary). Lets say of the 5 million people currently with AIDS only 2 million people qualify for the stipend. (It would be much higher.) Therefore $600 million dollars would be needed every month to keep these people healthy. That would use up the $15 billion dollars in around two years. Just in South Africa. Without actually buying any AIDS drugs.

Please tell me again how those Tax dollars are going to be used to help with this epidemic? Only one thing can really lessen the impact of this disaster, and that is substantial economic growth. Everthing else is plasters and candy. The one thing that 'can' hurt South Africa and the people infected with AIDS is if people disinvest because of fear of the epidemic. The more jobs that are created, the more people will live. If America really wants to help, either buy more South African products or make a profit while helping by investing in South Africa. (For a safe bet Bonds at 11% and up are hard to beat, but our equity market is also large and one of the most volatile in the world if youre willing to speculate!).


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