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Ask the Ambassador: U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, Eric M. Bost

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Welcome to "Ask the Ambassador" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to U.S. Ambassadors around the world.

U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Eric M. Bost discussed the U.S. commitment to supporting South Africa's response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Michael C. Polt, U.S. Ambassador to Serbia
Eric M. Bost
U.S. Ambassador to South Africa

Event Date: 12/01/2006

Cory from the United Kingdom writes:

Sir: With what you have seen in Africa with reference to the AIDS/HIV epidemic, do you feel that the teaching of abstinence for prevention is working? Why or why not? And what do you think would be the better way of promoting the use of condoms in small villages? Thank you for your time.

Ambassador Bost:

Thanks for the question Cory. I think one of the important lessons we are learning as we focus more of our attention and resources on this issue is that no single prevention approach provides the answer. The more tools we can use to reach people, people at all levels of society, the greater the impact. Recent studies from places like Kenya and Zambia strongly suggest that behavior change is having an impact on the spread of HIV. U.S. funds, through the President's Emergency Plan (PEPFAR), are today supporting the expansion of ABC (abstinence, be faithful, correct/consistent use of condoms) programs in dozens of programs around the world. Is the abstinence message alone enough to turn the tide? No. But it is a key prevention tool that we believe is part of what will make a difference.

Makaria from Colorado writes:

Does the U.S. supply condoms and other contraception to South Africa in its aid programs in order to assist in the stopping of the spread of HIV/AIDS?

Ambassador Bost:

No, the U.S. does not supply condoms to South Africa, because the Government of South Africa already has a well-established nationwide condom program and does not need and has not requested our support in that regard. Of course, worldwide the U.S. is supporting the distribution of more condoms than at any time in history, as a component of the proven ABC approach to HIV/AIDS prevention.

Phetkeo from Texas writes:

Greetings Mr. Ambassador: What is your plan of confronting HIV/AIDS Pandemic in South Africa In order to save as many child/man/women as possible? What is on your to do list for 2007?

Ambassador Bost:

Nice to hear from a fellow Texan! The U.S. is committed, very committed, to supporting South Africa's response to the pandemic. That commitment can be measured in dollars, as a starting point. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has allocated some $458 million to South Africa since 2003 to support expanded prevention, care, and treatment services. That figure will grow to more than $300 million in 2007.

Much more importantly, however, tens of thousands of South Africans are receiving antiretroviral treatment today due to PEPFAR, hundreds of thousands of orphans and vulnerable children are receiving care and other forms of support, and millions of South Africans are hearing prevention messages through U.S. support.

Also, please keep in mind that these funds go, in large part, to South African organizations, South African partners. The achievements are due to the many thousands of dedicated South Africans who are taking these funds and making a difference every day in the lives of their neighbors and countrymen. I am enormously proud of what the U.S. is supporting in South Africa, and consider myself privileged to be associated with the South Africans struggling against HIV/AIDS.

Deiara from the U.S. writes:

Are you managing the heartbreak AIDS brings in South Africa, and ever so in America? I am from Cape Town and many of my family has AIDS. I love the work you do. You bring me hope!

Ambassador Bost:

Thank you Deiara, those are kind words. Hope is exactly the right word to use in this context. We must strive to keep hope alive, and extend hope to as many people as possible. Hope isn't about money or speeches, it's about showing people that there is a future, for them, for their country. Keep that hope coming!

Cobby from Ghana writes:

Why has the West not accepted local/native herbal preparation for HIV/AIDS?

And what has the U.S to say about South Africa's policy of not using Anti-retroviral drugs for all HIV positive victims, instead using garlic and fruit as another alternative?

Ambassador Bost:

Interesting question Cobby, thank you. In fact, the U.S. is the only donor country that I know of that is supporting research into traditional medicines in South Africa. Now, let me underscore this - the U.S. is supporting research, research that will help us determine whether certain plants or compounds hold promise as treatment for HIV and other diseases. There has been considerable controversy in South Africa about the possible benefits of vegetables or fruits as treatments for AIDS. While I firmly believe that good nutrition is critical to healthy living, whether one is HIV-positive or not, I am not aware of any research that has been completed showing that garlic or other products are effective as treatments for AIDS.

The U.S.-funded research is quite interesting, by the way, and I encourage you to investigate further. Here's a link: http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/oct2005/nccam-14.htm

Samson from Gabon writes:

What effort has the U.S. government made for AIDS patients in South Africa.

To what extent can you use your good office to extend these efforts to other countries?

Ambassador Bost:

Thank you Samson. The U.S. is supporting a multitude of projects in South Africa extending and improving the provision of care to South Africans. This includes small-scale hospice programs in many parts of the country, and also large hospital-based programs designed to provide comprehensive care. The best place to go to learn about the range of programs is our PEPFAR website, found here: http://pretoria.usembassy.gov/wwwhpepfar.html

In terms of extending those activities, please keep in mind that PEPFAR is active in 120 countries around the world, including Gabon. Please reach out to the U.S. Embassy in Libreville to learn more.

Michelle from Tennessee writes:

Are low cost/free retroviral drugs part of the current plan to combat AIDS?

Are free clinics that provide other than HIV drugs, HIV testing, free drugs to pregnant infected women, etc. included as well?

Ambassador Bost:


In South Africa, yes is the answer to all your questions. The Government of South Africa, through its Department of Health, has a growing network of public health facilities where people can access care and treatment services. There are also numerous private facilities that cater to those who can pay for such services, and just this week I helped launch a new model in Johannesburg where people can receive subsidized treatment. You can see some information on that here: www.zuzimpilo.co.za

The number of people receiving antriretroviral treatment in South Africa is growing quickly (over 200,000), and I'm proud to say that the U.S. is part of the reason for that success.

George from Ireland writes:

Good morning sir. I wish to know much more about the discovery of a HIV cure I read the news from the newspaper. I read that scientists from America found the cure for HIV. Is there any truth to this?

Ambassador Bost:


I am unfamiliar with these reports.

Sally-Ann, from Dubai writes:

How does the ambassador view the short term and long term future of South Africa in terms of:

  • HIV/ Aids crisis
  • crime
  • economy

Thank you.

Ambassador Bost:

Thanks Sally-Ann,

With your indulgence, I'll restrict my response to HIV/AIDS, as this dialogue is focused on World AIDS Day. The other issues are important as well, and maybe we can repeat this exchange at another time to cover those and other topics.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa in the short term is the clear U.S. priority in its interactions with South Africa. Probably something like 250,000 South Africans died last year from AIDS, and with between 5 and 6 million infected citizens, I think it's fair to say that South Africa is the nation most affected by this disease. There is no shortage of people who will tell you that the situation in South Africa is hopeless. I am not one of those people. I believe there is hope, and that hope is growing day by day, as more and more South Africans are able to access treatment, more receive care, and more learn about how to keep the virus out of their lives. I believe we will turn the tide in South Africa, and we will do that because South Africans are leading the charge. The U.S. is very pleased and proud to be the leading donor to South Africa on HIV/AIDS, but at the end of the day, it will not be money that wins the battle, but South Africans determined to see a brighter future for the nation and future generations.

Kristin, a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan writes:

How do you think the current (South African) government has worked to improve conditions for the poorest people in South Africa, including those impacted by HIV/AIDS?

Ambassador Bost:

Thank you Kristin, and well done for joining the Peace Corps! I recently hosted the South Africa PCVs for Thanksgiving, and am proud of the commitment they have made, and the difference you all make in improving the lives and futures of peoples around the world.

As you know, the South African government inherited an unenviable situation when the apartheid era ended just a dozen years ago. Severe income disparity, educational inequality, to name just a couple issues. Health care services were similarly uneven and in some parts of the country, unavailable.

Given this starting point, I believe the government has made remarkable strides. We have a long way to go, to be sure, but every day new health facilities are being opened or upgraded, communities are gaining access to primary health care and HIV/AIDS services. The U.S. is of course assisting this process, and Peace Corps volunteers are also playing a role in promoting improved teacher training and extending HIV/AIDS prevention messages.

In short, far to go, but a trip worth making.

Aaron from Indiana writes:

What is going to be the greatest challenge faced in the battle to fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic?

Ambassador Bost:

Good question Aaron. Obviously, there are many issues that need to be addressed, many challenges to overcome. I think at the end of the day, however, the biggest challenge may well be sustaining international commitment. As you know, the U.S. is leading the international effort to support national responses around the world. The rest of the developed world has frankly been slow to mirror that effort, and it will require considerable effort from all of us to ensure that the current momentum is not lost or squandered.

Femblix from the Republic of Guinea writes:

What are the new aspects of the AIDS program in South Africa and why was that location chosen? HIV is an epidemic and a global issue, but the drugs do not tend to reach the needy. Vaccines are sold to other countries without considering where the greatest need is. Can you consider including people in my country with your project reform objective. Can we share love and live in unity. Poverty is often the result of violence and crime.

HIV/AIDS prevention efforts seem to ignore this fact.

Ambassador Bost:


You might be surprised to learn that Guinea is in fact among the 120 countries in which the President's Emergency Plan is active. While I am not familiar with the range of activities being supported in your country, I am certain you could explore that question with the U.S. Embassy in Conakry.

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