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Thursday, 29 March, 2001, 04:47 GMT 05:47 UK
Deal signed on Aids drugs
Thabo Mbeki and Fidel Castro
ANC ties with Cuba have always been strong
By Daniel Schweimler in Havana

Cuba and South Africa have signed a co-operation treaty designed to help the development of drugs to fight Aids.

The signing came during the visit to Cuba of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki - the first state visit to Cuba by a South African leader.

The Cuban President, Fidel Castro, had earlier expressed strong support for the governments of South Africa and Brazil for allowing local companies to produce cheaper Aids drugs to fight the epidemic.

Aids victim
Aids drugs are often too expensive for the developing world

His praise was part of a wider speech calling on developing countries to challenge international regulations protecting property rights.

President Castro said Cuba would produce generic versions of patented medications to fight Aids and HIV, the virus that can lead to Aids.

Some developed countries and large pharmaceutical companies are in turn challenging the move before the World Trade Organisation.

Reducing HIV transmission

On his three-day visit to Cuba, President Mbeki was taken to see the advances being made by Cuban biotechnology firms in their fight against Aids.

President Castro pointed out that one cocktail of drugs being produced in Cuba had, in some countries, reduced the number of mothers with HIV transmitting the virus to their children.

Cuba occupies a prominent place in the history of the struggle for and advancement of freedom on the African continent

Thabo Mbeki

The problem, he pointed out, was that mothers could not then feed their children breast milk, which in many poor countries was often their only source of food.

The South African delegation also signed co-operation deals covering sport and recreation and arts and culture.

Strong allies

Relations between Mr Mbeki's African National Congress party and Cuba have always been strong, with the communist government in Havana providing the ANC with weapons and training during its long struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

Cuban troops also fought in Angola against rebels backed by the then white government in South Africa.

In a speech at Havana University, President Mbeki, praised Cuba's role in Africa:

"Cuba occupies a prominent place in the history of the struggle for and advancement of freedom on the African continent," he said.

Highest honour

President Castro presented him with one of Cuba's highest honours - the Order of Jose Marti.

Aids orphans
Many of South Africa's children have been orphaned by Aids

And the South African president unveiled a bust of the former president of the African National Congress, Oliver Tambo.

Mr Mbeki went on to praise Cuba's social aid programmes in South Africa.

More than 400 Cuban doctors work there, mostly in rural areas, and nearly 200 South African students study in Cuba.

Luring workers away

President Mbeki also attacked developing countries for luring trained workers from developing countries away with offers of tax-free wages and better working conditions.

He singled out Canada for trying to tempt South African nurses away and Britain for trying to entice his country's teachers.

Those views are shared by the Cubans who pointed out recently that a quarter of the doctors of science working in the United States were born in another country.

Cuba, always looking for allies in its political battles with the United States, will also be heartened by President Mbeki's reiteration of South African opposition to the 40-year US trade embargo against Cuba.

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See also:

06 Mar 01 | Africa
Delay for Aids drugs case
21 Feb 01 | Business
Glaxo offers cheaper Aids drugs
24 Oct 00 | Aids
Aids drugs factfile
28 Nov 00 | Africa
Africa's Aids burden
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