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US Promises $18 Million To Treat 40,000 Zimbabweans For HIV/AIDS

The United States will provide an additional $18 million over the next three years to bring another 40,000 Zimbabweans onto the antiretroviral drug regimen that in many cases prevents HIV infection from leading to full-blown AIDS and eventual death.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell and Zimbabwe Health Minister David Parirenyatwa announce the commitment in a joint news conference - exceptional in itself given the strained relations between Washington and Harare over a range of issues.

"This is a new contribution designed to support the government of Zimbabwe's national HIV and AIDS program," Dell told journalists.

"It's the culmination of many months of work and the fruit of our long-term cooperative relationship with the ministry in the field of HIV and AIDS. And as I will soon depart Zimbabwe, it is particularly gratifying to know that I leave behind a program that is going to make such a huge difference to the lives of so many Zimbabweans," the ambassador said. Dell is shortly to conclude his tenure as ambassador.

Dr. Parirenyatwa said that the U.S. contribution "comes at a time when Zimbabwe is experiencing a decline in the HIV prevalence rate. It is my hope that other donors and partners will follow the example of the United States of America."

Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported from Harare.

Expanding ARV coverage to all those requiring the drugs was also being discussed at the Group of Eight summit under way in Germany this week.

Leaders of the worlds largest economies are said to be backing away from a pledge made at their 2005 summit to provide ARVs to 10 million people by 2010, reportedly revising that to “approximately five million,” over the next few years.

The language was contained in a leaked communique draft. The final document won’t be released until the summit concludes on Friday, but the Financial Times reported on Thursday that although AIDS is high on the summit agenda, the United States and Britain sought to restate the commitment in more realistic terms. The newspaper quoted UNAIDS as saying universal coverage would cost US$23 billion.

Correspondent Kim Lewis of the Voice of America's English to Africa program was at the summit in Heiligendamm and provided an update on the developing story.

AIDS activists in Zimbabwe said they were grateful that the US government did not let political differences with Harare get in the way of helping to fight HIV/AIDS.

National chairman Benjamin Mazhindu of the Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the American-provided funds for drugs will go a long way.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...