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US official pledges to mobilise resources in fight against HIV/AIDS

US Secretary for Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson promised on Wednesday to mobilise funds for HIV/AIDS programmes in Rwanda and to secure anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs for Rwandans infected with the disease.

Thompson made the pledge in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. He was on the second leg of a four-nation tour of Africa to assess HIV/AIDS projects and to determine what needs to be done to increase treatment and prevent the spread of the pandemic.

"We want to see what programmes are working and then fund those programmes and be able to get anti-retroviral drugs to people that need them as soon as possible," he said after meeting Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Statistics from the Rwanda AIDS Control Programme indicate that at least 13 percent of Rwanda's 8.2 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS, yet only a handful of them have access to ARVs.

Thompson said there was need for strong measures to combat mother-to-child transmission of the virus that causes AIDS. "More importantly we have to make sure that we get the programme up and running to reduce the incidences of transfer of the virus from mother to child," he said.

Rwanda has one of the highest number of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic as well as the 1994 genocide in which some 800,000 people died.

Thompson was accompanied by Richard Holbrooke, the president of the Global Business Coalition for
HIV/AIDS, which is working to encourage companies to contribute to the fight against the disease among their employees in Africa and other developing nations.

Speaking after visiting a health centre in Gitarama, south of Kigali, where HIV/AIDS patients receive treatment, Thompson said, "You and all people in Africa are fighting a terrible scourge of HIV/AIDS."

He added, "For too long this terrible disease has cut an ugly face throughout this continent - and I am going back to America to do everything I possibly can to help them and all the people of Rwanda - with the many resources as we can possibly get in order to make sure more people are taken care of."

Thompson also said that the US government was planning to give Rwanda technical aid to support the training of health workers and people caring for HIV/AIDS patients.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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