U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., added his voice to the chorus of international criticism of South Africa's AIDS policies on Monday, saying the government needs to do more to prevent and treat the disease.
Obama, the son of a Kenyan economist and the U.S. Senate's only black member, met with AIDS activists and Nobel prize winner Desmond Tutu on the second day of his two-week African tour.
"There is not a full acknowledgment of the extent of the problem, and between practicing unsafe sex and HIV infection rates," he said after visiting a hospital for HIV-positive women.
He said there was an "enormous" amount of denial about AIDS in the community and that government officials were partly to blame.
President Thabo Mbeki's government has been widely accused of ignoring the epidemic and promoting inadequate prevention methods.
An estimated 19 percent of South Africans ages 15 to 49, and 30 percent of pregnant women, are infected with HIV. An estimated 5.5 million people carry the virus — the highest total of any nation.
Obama, who has been touted as a possible future presidential candidate, is on an African tour that will take him to Kenya and Chad as well as other nations.
Obama said he planned to take a public AIDS test when he visits his late father's home village in Kenya later this week to try to help dispel the stigma surrounding the virus in many African countries.
Tutu praised the move.
"That would be very good," he said. "It encourages other people who may be less brave to want to do that. It also helps deal with the whole question of the stigma."
The anti-apartheid veteran gave Obama a ringing endorsement.
"You're born to be a very credible presidential candidate," Tutu said. "I hope that I would be equally nice to a young white senator, but I'm glad you are black."