22 June 2007

Africa: HIV/Aids, Malaria Focus of Laura Bush's Africa Trip

Washington, DC — First lady Laura Bush embarks on her third Africa tour June 25, during which she will visit U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention and treatment projects. She also will highlight education and women's empowerment during her five-day trip to Senegal, Mozambique, Zambia and Mali.

"People can live positively with AIDS for a long time, live a healthy life," she said at Howard University June 19, adding, "AIDS is not the death sentence that we once thought it was."

It is a message she will bring to Africa as she visits programs funded by the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), initiated by President Bush in 2003. He recently asked Congress to double the $15 billion, five year commitment to contain the devastating epidemic.

"It's already an unprecedented program. There has never been a fight against a single disease of that magnitude before," Deputy Global AIDS Coordinator Jimmy Kolker told journalists at a White House briefing June 19. He said half the resources in the global fight against AIDS come from the United States.

PEPFAR funding allows grassroots organizations to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and implement programs for prevention, treatment and care of infected individuals.

Likewise, the 2005 President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) builds the capacity of nongovernmental organizations by funding prevention strategies such as pesticide spraying, mosquito bed net distribution and the purchase of the most effective anti-malarial drugs. The five-year, $1.2 billion program aims to reduce malaria deaths in target countries in Africa by 50 percent.

"People may not realize, we had malaria in the United States until 1946, and we were able to totally eradicate it," Laura Bush told CNN June 20. She said the ultimate goal of PMI is "to eradicate malaria in the countries that are the hardest-hit in Africa."

Every year a million malaria-infected people die, most of them African infants, children and pregnant women, according to the World Health Organization. Malaria is an intermittent fever transmitted by mosquito bites.

"I think this trip in particular is going to emphasize ... the integration of the fight against AIDS with other development health goals," Kolker said.

The four African countries have unique national histories, plans and needs, and by "adapting to the local circumstances, following the national lead and with national partners, we're able to help people where they live and to relate to the reality on the ground for them," Kolker said.

Empowerment of women and education of girls also figures in Laura Bush's schedule. In Dakar, Senegal, the first stop on her tour, she will award five Ambassador's Girls' Scholarships provided by the Africa Education Initiative. The initiative will fund 555,000 scholarships to African girls by 2010. "It's critically important that they be educated, not only to be able to provide for financial stability for their home, but also for their own health," the first lady's chief of staff, Anita McBride, said at the briefing.

Besides visits to PEPFAR- and PMI-funded programs in the four countries, Bush will participate in a women's empowerment round table in Mozambique and visit Flame, a transit home for orphans, and WORTH, an organization that educates and provides microfinancing for women in Zambia.

Bush also will launch the first public/private-funded PlayPump water system at Regiment Basic School in Lusaka, Zambia. Colorful merry-go-rounds for children, PlayPumps also give communities easy access to clean water.

In Mali, Bush will attend an event highlighting cooperation with the Millennium Challenge Corporation to encourage economic growth through key infrastructure development. The gateway Bamako-Senou International Airport and agricultural irrigation in the Niger River Delta are the leading projects.

The emphasis is on the personal touch and grassroots participation. "While we're very proud of the huge financial contribution that the administration, the Congress, the American taxpayers have committed to AIDS, what we're most proud of is that we actually know the individuals who are being helped," Kolker said.

Laura Bush visited Rwanda, Tanzania, South Africa, Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria on two previous African trips.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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