Top U.S. Officials Head to Africa for AIDS Day

U.S. lawmakers, business people and members of religious groups will visit Africa next week to mark World AIDS Day and examine projects aimed at combatting the disease, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Tuesday.

The group of 80 people will visit four hard-hit countries- Zambia, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda — and stop in Cameroon, said Thompson, who also heads the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis (search).

Joining Thompson in Zambia for the AIDS day observance Dec. 1, he said, will be Dr. Lee Jong-Wook, the new director-general of the World Health Organization (search), and Peter Piot, head of UNAIDS (search), the organization responsible for coordinating global efforts to fight the disease.

The U.S. delegation includes Randall L. Tobias, recently appointed U.S. global AIDS coordinator to oversee the $15 billion in funding over five years proposed by President Bush to fight HIV/AIDS, and Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and now president of the Global Business Coalition for HIV/AIDS.

"This is the largest and most diverse single mission of its kind, bringing leaders from across the spectrum to witness what AIDS is doing in Africa and what we can do to help Africa fight back," Thompson said.

Thompson said Africa's problems include a lack of facilities to test, treat and deliver anti-retroviral drugs to AIDS patients; the social stigma in discussing the disease; and the lack of political leadership in some countries to increase awareness of the dangers of HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it.