September 22, 2003
JOHANNESBURG — At a youth forum in Johannesburg, attended by former president Nelson Mandela, Microsoft chairperson Bill Gates said that if the history of Aids was written 40 or 50 years from now, people would say the world at large did not react to the disease as fast as it should have.
His answer was in reply to a question asking whether he found the attitude of the South African government on anti-retrovirals frustrating.
"We are pleased that the South African government has decided to roll out an anti-retroviral programme."
Gates also welcomed the United States government's efforts in putting together a package of $10-billion to $15-billion for 14 countries, including South Africa.
These steps, together with the models coming from Botswana – where the Gates foundation is funding a major Aids project – boded well, he said.
"I can feel good things are starting to happen."
He hoped that as the US grant money came, the availability of treatment would encourage more people – who now believed they had no reason to be tested for Aids – to be tested and to commit themselves to the fight against the syndrome, he said.
Earlier, Mandela said the youth should play a leading role in a social revolution against HIV/Aids, similar to the one against apartheid.
"South Africans are beyond arguments about statistics or debates about causality and controversies about the relative efficacy of medication," Mandela said.
"Aids is clearly a disaster, effectively wiping out the development gains of the past decades and sabotaging the future."
South African youth had played a very important and heroic role in the defeat of apartheid, Mandela said.
"The fight against Aids will indeed require another social revolution."
Medicine and treatment were important, but what people living with HIV/Aids needed even more were love, support and compassion.
"The fight against HIV/Aids offers us the opportunity to once more reach deeply into that pool of human caring and human compassion that characterised us as a people in our struggle against apartheid.
"Once more, our people from all backgrounds, genders or age groups shall rally to a call to come together to save our nation from destruction," Mandela said.
Asked by an audience member how to deal with the stigmatising that accompanied the disease, Mandela’s wife Graca Machel suggested young people should start a small group in their community to address the problem. That was how Mandela and his peers started their struggle against apartheid, she said.
Another audience member wanted to know why the government could not use the money spent on changing street names for Aids drugs. Johannesburg mayor Amos Masondo responded that preserving the country's heritage was also important.
Before the arrival of the dignitaries, two HIV-positive women – one on medical aid and with access to antiretroviral treatment, and the other without the drugs and suffering from full-blown Aids – were introduced to the audience.
On the question of how to cope with the disease without money, Machel replied: "It is not about money, but about attitude."
People should take care of themselves and lead a healthy life. They should try to eat well even if they were poor, she said.
Bill Gates’ wife Melinda Gates added: "If you get pregnant, go to an antenatal clinic and ask for nevirapine so you don't convey the disease to your baby."
After spending Tuesday in South Africa on Microsoft business, the couple are to proceed to Botswana on Wednesday. –Sapa