Frist examines AIDS problem, performs surgeries on visit to Africa
By NANCY ZUCKERBROD
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sen. Bill Frist picked up a license to practice medicine in Uganda Tuesday morning, and by the afternoon he was performing heart surgery on an 18-month-old girl alongside that country's vice president.
This is the fifth time the Tennessee Republican, who worked as a heart-lung transplant surgeon before his 1994 election, has taken a break from politics for a medical mission trip to Africa.
This time, Frist, who pays for the trips himself, visited Uganda, Sudan, Tanzania and Kenya.
In a conference call Tuesday from Kampala, Uganda, Frist said the girl's operation was a success. He said the procedure was needed to close a duct connecting to the aorta. He said the duct is supposed to close off on its own but sometimes doesn't do that.
Ugandan Vice President Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, also a physician, helped with the operation and earned praise from Frist for her surgical skills.
Frist said he performed hernia operations in southern Sudan last week in a primitive hospital that had no running water and where doctors used fishing line to stitch their patients.
In addition to working as a doctor, Frist put on his political hat for meetings with several African officials including a session with Ugandan President Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to discuss the continent's AIDS crisis.
About 40 million people around the world are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the United Nations. Approximately 28 million of them live in sub-Saharan Africa, where the epidemic continues to spread rapidly.
Frist praised Museveni for trying to combat the problem and for frankly discussing AIDS in almost all of his speeches. He said he also was pleased at how well Uganda was using the $120 million the United States gave it to fight AIDS through education and HIV/AIDS testing.
Late Tuesday, Frist met with rock star Bono of the group U2 to discuss AIDS and issues surrounding debt relief -- when western countries forgive the debt of developing nations in exchange for pledges to back public health and anti-poverty initiatives.
"It's an issue that Bono and I have met with and worked on in the past in Washington D.C.," said Frist, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Bono has used his fame to advocate debt relief for the world's poorest countries and improve trade relations between Africa and the rest of the world.
Frist, who with the rest of Congress is on break until Jan. 23, said it was too early to say what legislative ideas might develop from his trip. He drafted legislation pertaining to Sudan and Zimbabwe following previous visits to Africa.
President Bush recently signed Frist's bill authorizing increased funding for democracy programs in Zimbabwe, and the Senate approved Frist's legislation aimed at pressuring Sudanese officials to end the civil war that has plagued that country for 18 years. The House passed a different version of the Sudan bill, and negotiators must work on a compromise.