Jimmy Carter nearly punched former South African president over AIDS policy

Former President Jimmy Carter said he nearly came to blows with former South African president Thabo Mbeki over his refusal to authorize antiretroviral treatments during the AIDS epidemic.

“The first time I came here to Cape Town, I almost got in a fight with the president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, because he was refusing to let AIDS be treated,” Carter told the Sunday Times.

The former president said that he and Bill Gates were trying to convince Mbeki to at least authorize the drugs for pregnant mothers, in hopes of preventing transmission to babies in the womb. But, Carter said, "Mbeki was against that."

“That’s the closest I’ve come to getting into a fist fight with a head of state," he added.

A study by researchers at Harvard in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes estimated that the South African government could have prevented the premature deaths of 365,000 people had it provided the drugs to AIDS patients.