Protesters Decry Bush AIDS Policy

Hundreds of demonstrators marched Thursday to protest U.S. policies on AIDS (search), demanding that President Bush do more to treat and prevent the disease.

The demonstrations outside the U.S. consulates in Johannesburg and Cape Town were part of a series of planned International Day of Action protests in Germany, Cameroon, Kenya, Zimbabwe, the United States and elsewhere in South Africa.

By midafternoon, however, demonstrations had not materialized in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi or in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare. In Germany, activists said the protest was limited to a call for letters to be written to the U.S. ambassador.

In Johannesburg, about 500 angry AIDS activists, many wearing red and white T-shirts that said "HIV Positive," criticized Bush, saying he had hurt the global fight against the disease by spending billions of dollars on war.

They also contended he undermined the global fight against AIDS by limiting access to condoms, reproductive choices and generic drugs.

"We promote choice, we don't dictate like George Bush. His policy is killing people, it is making the problem worse," said Mark Heywood, a leader of the South African activist group Treatment Action Campaign.

In Cape Town, U.S. Consulate spokesman Louis Mazel spoke to about 350 demonstrators from the back of a flatbed truck.

"I know we have differences on how funding is coming together, whether it goes to the Global Fund, whether it goes through a bilateral program," he said. "The U.S. is the largest contributor in the world to combating HIV and AIDS through both means."

In South Africa, he said, the U.S. government elected to pass money through bilateral donors rather than the Global Fund (search) because that meant one less level of administration.

In Johannesburg, consular officials declined to meet with demonstrators. The consulate said it would meet with two representatives, but that offer was rejected.

Instead, Heywood read the group's memorandum over a loudspeaker, then passed a copy under the consulate's gate.

"The effect of the U.S. government's unlawful war in Iraq has been to divert international attention and resources away from global health and poverty," Heywood said, reading from the memorandum.

In the memorandum, the activists demanded that Bush cut military spending and earmark more money for the fight against AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, malnutrition and poverty - which they called the biggest threat to human security today.

The memorandum noted the United Nations estimated that 2.5 million to 3.5 million people died of AIDS last year, 1 million died of malaria and 2 million died of tuberculosis. It said the U.N. estimated 800 million people suffered from malnutrition and that it contributed to half of the 10 million child deaths in the developing world.

The activists also demanded that the U.S. ensure the success of the World Health Organization's plan to treat 3 million people with AIDS by 2005.

They also accused the United States of undermining public confidence in generic anti-AIDS drugs, and demanded that it stop limiting access to condoms and reproductive choices through family planning. They also demanded that the United States give the promised $15 billion for AIDS prevention and treatment to the Global Fund.

Daniel Stewart, a spokesman for the consulate in Johannesburg, said the demonstrators were "simply incorrect" in asserting that the United States was making HIV and AIDS a secondary issue.

"They state that the United States is not doing enough in the fight for HIV and AIDS, when in fact the United States is the single largest contributor to funds to fight HIV and AIDS," he said.