HC Deb 07 February 2001 vol 362 cc917-8
7. Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

What recent representations she has received regarding help needed to tackle HIV/AIDS in southern Africa. [147644]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

HIV/AIDS infection rates among pregnant women average 25 per cent. in southern Africa. That is a cause of great human suffering and a major setback to development. For example, life expectancy in Botswana—a very successful economy in Africa—is projected to fall from 71 years in the mid-1980s to 42 or under by 2010. HIV/AIDS prevention and better care are a major focus of our work in southern Africa. Since January 1999, we have committed £74 million to this work there.

Mr. Pike

My right hon. Friend, who is visiting South Africa next week, knows that this issue in southern Africa is extremely important to the economy of the whole region. More than a third of the known cases of HIV/AIDS are in southern Africa. Clearly, education and prevention are essential to stopping the spread of the disease.

Will my right hon. Friend speak to the drugs companies and the South African Government to try and end the present legal proceedings, so that progress can be made in ensuring that the necessary drugs are made available?

Clare Short

I agree with my hon. Friend. We must take action on anti-retrovirals, but prevention is more important. In Uganda, which has been a leader in education, infection rates among young people are dropping, which looks as if there has been a significant change in behaviour. That kind of programme must be put in place across Africa.

I shall be meeting representatives of the South African Government, and I have talked with the drug companies here. The legal action is very regrettable, and if we can do anything to reach agreement instead, we will.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

Will the right hon. Lady accept that the fight against HIV and AIDS in southern Africa has been hampered by the attitude of those in power in such countries as South Africa and Zimbabwe? Will she try to impress on those countries the need for prevention, education and treatment, and do all that she can to assist the people suffering from these dreadful conditions?

Clare Short

I am delighted to agree with the hon. Lady—that may be a first, but I hope not the last. What has been achieved in Uganda, and the reduction in infection rates among young people in Lusaka in Zambia and in Nairobi show that the big efforts made in prevention and education are paying dividends for the younger generation. Across the world, it is predominantly young people who are being infected, more of them women than men. Such efforts are therefore saving the next generation. We must persuade all the Governments of Africa to do what the best of them are doing. There has been progress in South Africa recently, and we hope that Zimbabwe will move forward too.