U.S. To Offer Africa AIDS Relief

Wednesday, July 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States plans to offer sub-Saharan African nations $1 billion in annual loans to pay for American AIDS drugs and medical services, the U.S. Export-Import Bank said Wednesday.

Officials at the agency said Bank President James A. Harmon planned an announcement of a special program to help poor nations battle the disaster the disease has caused.

Seventy percent of the world's 34 million people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, live in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 2 million people died in the region last year and nearly all the 11 million AIDS orphans live there.

Five multinational drug companies agreed in May to cut the prices they charge African nations for drugs to combat AIDS.

But even a discounted ``cocktail'' of AIDS-suppressing drugs might cost $2,000 per year for an African patient, more than four times the average per capita income in many countries.

``This is at least a first step in showing the world that Africa is important to the United States and that we can make a dent in this terrible problem,'' Harmon told The New York Times in Wednesday's editions.

The loan program is the first time the bank, an independent government agency financed by Congress, has offered financing for drug purchases by any nation, Harmon said.

The bank plans to make money available to 24 eligible sub-Saharan nations for five-year terms, with most loans expected to carry an interest rate of about 7 percent.