'Amazing Place, Amazing People'

29 May 2002
Bono, O'Neill visit Soweto clinic for HIV-positive pregnant women.

SOWETO, South Africa -- Irish rock star Bono's voice cracked Friday, reports Ravi Nessman of Associated Press, as he tried to explain the emotions he felt talking to a group of mothers infected with the AIDS virus.

"This is an amazing place, amazing people," he said at the prenatal HIV clinic at Soweto's Chris Hani Baragwaneth hospital. "This is very, very hard for an Irish rock star to admit. I'm actually speechless." Bono and U.S. treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill met with some of the patients who are among the 4.7 million people infected with HIV in South Africa as part of their 10-day tour of the continent.

Later Bono gave an impromptu performance at a shanty town in Soweto. A group of students had begun doing a dance to the U2 song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." When their radio broke, Bono continued the song accompanied by claps and a man playing a traditional drum.

Bono and O'Neill were touring several African countries in what has been billed as a fact-finding mission by the Treasury, and as an exercise in persuasion by the Irish pop legend.

The tour is the result of a meeting a year ago when the two men met in O'Neill's office. Initially reluctant to meet, O'Neill later said he was impressed by the singer's knowledge about Africa. Bono has said he was determined to show O'Neill that aid can be put to good use in Africa.

Both men hoped the tour will bring worldwide attention to the devastation HIV is bringing to Africa. O'Neill said he was astounded to find out that so much of aid money coming into the country was being used for prevention instead of treatment.

"There is something wrong when the system does not take care of the here and now," he said. O'Neill's recommendation that treatment come before prevention flies in the face of most AIDS programs around the world that make preventing more infections the top priority.

Bono appeared to use flattery to try to publicly pressure O'Neill to give more money for development in Africa and the battle against HIV. "He is getting angrier by the day as he sees the great potential of this continent and how it is not being used," he said as O'Neill stood by his side.

Referring to AIDS he said, "the secretary will be able to send one message back to the president. This is an emergency what we have seen today." O'Neill responded, "we the world have got to deal with this problem. ... This is doable."

O'Neill who has long criticized the misuse of foreign aid by recipient countries said he wanted re-evaluations of where U.S. foreign assistance was being spent as well as an increase in that> assistance

Many of the HIV positive women and never heard of either of the two men but they said they were happy that such clearly important people were so interested in their plight.

The clinic has been giving Nevirapine to pregnant mothers in a program to try to prevent transmission of HIV to the babies. They hope to be able to treat 8,000 women by the end of the year.


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