South Africa Pledges Aid for All HIV-Infected Babies

To mark World AIDS Day, South Africa's president announces new treatment goals.

Dec. 1, 2009— -- The president of South Africa, the country with the highest number of people infected with AIDS worldwide, pledged today his country will treat all HIV-positive babies and will increase overall testing and treatment for the disease for everyone.

President Jacob Zuma outlined the country's new approach to fighting the epidemic in a speech he delivered to mark World AIDS Day.

Zuma pledged to treat all HIV-positive children under the age of 1, and vowed early treatment for patients suffering from both HIV and tuberculosis. He also promised earlier treatment for pregnant women who are HIV-positive.

Zuma's speech was seen as a turning point for South Africa. The previous administration under President Thabo Mbeki was widely ridiculed after Mbeki questioned a link between HIV and AIDS. His health minister promoted beet and garlic treatments and distrusted modern drugs created to keep AIDS patients alive.

One Harvard study estimated that more than 300,000 died as a result of these measures.

Zuma compared today's fight against AIDS to South Africa's struggle against apartheid.

"At another moment in our history, in another context, the liberation movement observed that the time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices: submit or fight… Let us declare now, as we declared then, that we shall not submit."

Zuma set a goal of getting AIDS drugs for 80 percent of those who need them by 2011.

The U.S. announced it will give South African $120 million in funding over the next two years. U.S. Ambassador Donald Gips said the aid "is in direct response to the government of South Africa's request."

South Africa has a population of about 50 million and has an estimated 5.7 million infected with HIV. UNAIDS estimates that 14.1 million children in sub-Saharan Africa lost one or both parents to AIDS last year.

17-year-old Thozama and her teenage brother Thozamele were orphaned when their mother died of AIDS three years ago.

They now take on the role of parents in caring for their two younger sisters who are still in elementary school. They live together without power or running water.

When asked what she misses about her mother, Thozama said, "Everything. Smiling, talking, taking care of us. Everything."

The two youngest children board a school bus, and then Thozama and Thozamele walk nearly 4 miles to get to their own school every day.

"My dream is to be a social worker, finish school and help people," Thozama said.

Thozamele wants to be a pilot, and shares the same hope his sister has for their two younger siblings.

"I want a good life for them. To know that God loves them and me and my mother," he said.