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Africans Bewildered By Bono, O'Neill

Posted on Saturday, May 25 @ 03:56:24 UTC by Macphisto
-----------------------------------------------

SOWETO, South Africa ((Associated Press) -- - The women at the AIDS clinic in Soweto may have had no idea who their two visitors were, but the patients' stories had a deep impact on Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and rock star Bono.

"This is an amazing place, amazing people," Bono, his voice cracking, told a group of HIV-infected women Friday at Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital. "Our lives have been blessed by meeting you people today and I will never, ever forget it,"

Both O'Neill, the Republican politician, and Bono, the lead singer of the Irish rock band U2, raged at the inequities that meant many of the women would die of a disease that could be treated with medicine available in wealthier countries.

"That is the stupidest reason to die: money," Bono said.

O'Neill, who has often criticized recipient countries for the misuse of foreign aid, said he was shocked to learn that so much of the aid money coming into South Africa was being used for prevention instead of treatment.

"You treat the most important first, and the most important is treatment for those already infected," he said. Most AIDs programs around the world make preventing infection the top priority.

O'Neill recommended a re-evaluation of how foreign aid was being spent as well as an increase in aid.

Bono and O'Neill arrived in South Africa on Thursday after visiting Ghana. They were to travel Sunday to Ethiopia and then Uganda.

Many of those Bono and O'Neill saw on Friday were impressed that such powerful men would visit them, but had no idea who they were.

"I have not heard of these two men, but I was told they were important," said one HIV-positive mother at the clinic, who declined to give her name because of the stigma attached to the disease.

When Bono later visited loveLife, a project that encourages teen-agers to talk about sex, one of his hosts asked the waiting crowd if they had heard of U2 and was met with perplexed stares.

"We don't know about him," said Keneiloe Sehloho, 25, who came to the event because she heard music blaring.

Both men appeared unfazed by the lack of recognition, happy to spend their time meeting average South Africans and trying to focus media attention on poverty and the 4.7 million South Africans infected with HIV.

"People aren't really free if they can't get to water. They aren't really free if their children are dying of malaria. They aren't really free if they have no future. So to some extent there is still a form of apartheid in Soweto," Bono said.

After touring the AIDS clinic, the men visited a housing program partially funded by the U.S. government that helped Soweto residents save money to build homes.

There, on the edge of a shantytown, Bono gave an impromptu performance for delighted residents. 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 picked up singing where the radio left off, accompanied by claps and a man playing a traditional drum.

The 10-day African tour has been billed 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 in O'Neill's office. Initially reluctant to see Bono, O'Neill later said he was impressed by the singer's knowledge of Africa.

At a press conference Friday about AIDS, Bono 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."

By RAVI NESSMAN

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