Mr. Clinton's Mission

He Talks To <b>Dan Rather</b> About His Work, Hillary, & Mr. Bush

What do you do if you're a former president, besides making millions writing your memoirs? If you're Jimmy Carter, you help cure river blindness in Africa and build habitats for humanity. And if you're George Bush and Bill Clinton, you raise money for hurricane and tsunami victims.

Or you try to accomplish something you admit you weren't able to do in office as well as your successor, and in Mr. Clinton's case, that's fighting the worldwide AIDS epidemic.

Former President Bill Clinton talked to Correspondent Dan Rather about the fight against AIDS, his intriguing relationship with the Bush White House, and about his wife's political future.



60 Minutes traveled with Mr. Clinton deep into China, into an area rarely visited by westerners. The rural area is known as the Golden Triangle, near the borders of Vietnam and Myanmar, which used to be known as Burma. It is a remote agricultural area, is extremely poor, and it has become a breeding ground for AIDS, which has infected a million Chinese citizens. It is estimated that number could rise to ten million in five years.

It is in Yunnan province in southeast China that health officials have documented the largest number of AIDS cases. It's bad, they say, and getting worse. The area has long been a major drug pipeline and AIDS is spread here mostly through IV drug users and prostitutes, and by migrant workers from the countryside who are streaming by the millions into urban areas.

AIDS is exploding, not only in China but worldwide. But Mr. Clinton is convinced he can make a difference.

"There are over 40 million people that are HIV-positive. So it just seemed to me that this was a problem that cried out for organization and a little entrepreneurial skill, and for a relatively small amount of money we could have a huge impact," says Clinton.

60 Minutes flew with Mr. Clinton by private plane to Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province. It wasn't Air Force One, but Mr. Clinton was treated like a celebrity when he arrived. From the airport he went directly to a local hospital where, to dramatize the AIDS problem, Mr. Clinton invited in the media and then, with cameras rolling, met with a young woman who is HIV infected.

This woman is the face of AIDS in China, Clinton wanted everyone to know. She says she has never used drugs, never worked in the sex trade and insists her only recent sex partner is her husband.

People in her village don't understand, she said, and some even stop talking to her when they learn she is infected.

"I looked at this kid and I thought, she's my daughter's age, you know," says Clinton. "I want people to see her as a human being. And to see that there's nothing wrong with touching them, people with HIV and AIDS. There's nothing wrong with embracing them. And there's everything right with fighting for them to have a normal life."

President Clinton's foundation is helping to fund an AIDS testing lab in Kunming. A thousand new workers are being trained.

"There are two different tests typically performed. One is the CD4, which shows you know how you're doing as you go along. And the other is the viral load showing the amount of virus drops in the blood. We have cut the cost of these tests dramatically, by 80, 85 percent," he says.

Mr. Clinton has also used the media to convince China it has an AIDS problem. Two years ago, in Beijing, he hugged a man who was infected, and he did it on Chinese television.

U.N. Undersecretary General Peter Piot, who is in charge of the United Nations AIDS programs, says it was a defining moment. He says President Clinton has been successful in convincing many world leaders they have to deal with the stigma and the reality of AIDS.

"AIDS has to do with sex and drugs. And these are difficult, sensitive issues in any society. I've heard it so many times in Asia. You hear it in India. 'We're different. We're not like these Africans. We're not like those Americans or these Europeans. We don't do these things,' " says Piot. "There's denial."

Has there been a cover-up of the AIDS problem?

"I think there has been a cover-up in many provinces. The best example, or the worst example, is Henan province," says Piot.

Henan Province is not as remote as Yunnan but AIDS is a problem here, too, less because of drugs and prostitution than because of blood transfusions. Poor farmers sold their blood for cash and in the process were contaminated by the blood of other donors who had AIDS. Local government officials were aware of what was going on, but by most accounts ignored, even covered up, the AIDS problem. Now the disease has been passed on to the farmers' children. Clinton's foundation is trying to save them by giving them drugs for free.

But President Clinton was thrown a sudden curve ball in Henan province, about an hour's flight south of Beijing. He was supposed to meet inside a hospital with some of the 100 kids his foundation has been treating for AIDS, the first program of its kind in this country. But in a last-minute switch, the government, which has been accused of downplaying or even denying the full extent of the spread of AIDS here, told the President he couldn't meet with the kids inside the hospital, so the whole operation had to be shifted quickly to a hotel.

"I would have preferred to go to the hospital, but I have worked with the Chinese for a long time. And I understand that the inferences that we draw are now as important as whether they are, in fact, committed to this pediatric program. As long as these kids are going to live, I'll meet with them on the penthouse here. If they wanted to meet me in my suite and drink tea, it'd be fine with me," says Clinton.
  • Daniel Schorn

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