President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush traveled to Gaborone, Botswana and Windhoek, Namibia to demonstrate their continued commitment to the people of Africa through the work of the George W. Bush Institute's (GWBI) global leadership programs. The trip highlighted the work of the Bush Institute’s affiliate, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon®, a global partnership fighting women’s cancers, and the Bush Institute’s First Ladies Initiative, which engages and supports first ladies from around the world to effectively use their unique platforms to improve lives.
“Laura and I are thrilled to be here,” said President Bush. “We decided to stay out of politics when we left Washington, but we wanted to stay engaged in policy areas that matter to us, and it broke my heart that even though a woman’s life might be saved from HIV/AIDS she was needlessly dying of cervical cancer. I just couldn’t imagine the despondency in some of these villages where a mom died of a disease that we could cure and fix with the right kind of policy.”
“So we applaud the work on the ground in both of these countries, where these governments are dedicated to saving lives but need our help. Development of a healthcare system that can reach all corners of a country takes time. And now is not the time to abandon the efforts that have taken place up to this point.”
Cervical cancer is a leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa. In six years, across five African countries, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon and its partners have:
- screened more than 370,000 women for cervical cancer and more than 24,000 women for breast cancer,
- vaccinated more than 119,000 girls with the HPV vaccine; and,
- trained nearly 1,000 health workers.
Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon builds upon the platform created by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to build healthier, more stable countries. Women with HIV are five times more likely to develop cervical cancer, a disease that can be prevented by the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine. It is also inexpensive to screen for, and easily treatable if detected early. In fact, with proper resources, and broad access to vaccination and screening, it is possible to end cervical cancer deaths in the next 30 years.
PEPFAR, started in 2003 by President Bush, leverages public-private partnerships to address the scourge of HIV/AIDS. The program has achieved remarkable results in the fight against disease. Because of PEPFAR:
- more than 11.5 million people have received lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS,
- nearly 2 million babies have been born HIV-free to infected mothers; and,
- over 6 million orphans and children left vulnerable by the disease receive care and support.
By increasing the focus on data, results, transparency, and reform, foreign governments take a more active ownership role over the development assistance they receive, with the ultimate goal of decreasing their dependence on aid.
In Botswana, President and Mrs. Bush visited Tlokweng Main Clinic, where they met with women who have been screened and treated for cervical cancer. They also saw examples of innovative technology that increases the efficiency and efficacy of screening and treating cervical cancer, while lowering the cost.
They then traveled to Therisanyo Primary School, where they heard the stories of girls who had been vaccinated against HPV, as well as their mothers, who had been treated for cervical cancer. The Government of Botswana has demonstrated leadership in providing HPV vaccination to girls between the ages of nine and thirteen, vaccinating 90 percent of the targeted population across the country in the first year of the program’s rollout. The collaboration between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education was critical to that success.
At Therisanyo School, Mrs. Bush announced the first ever international grants from the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Library. Therisanyo School in Gaborone and Ella Du Plessis High School in Windhoek, Namibia each received $2,500 towards their school libraries. The Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries provides funds to the neediest schools so that they can extend, update, and diversify the book and print collections in their libraries with the goal of encouraging students to develop a love of reading and learning. In the past 15 years, over 2,500 schools have received grants for their schools libraries, totaling more than 13 million dollars in funding.
“I’m delighted to present our very first international grants to provide books to these schools,” said Mrs. Bush. “With these grants, your librarians will order new books and materials for your schools – something everyone can enjoy. I hope that all the students here learn to love reading.”
In Namibia, President and Mrs. Bush began their visit at Ella Du Plessis High School, where they were accompanied by the First Lady of Namibia, Mrs. Monica Geingos. They were welcomed with a performance by the school’s choir and participated in a discussion with students about overcoming barriers that prevent young people from reaching their full potential and the importance of staying in school.
They then visited Windhoek Central Hospital with Mrs. Geingos, where they stopped by the maternity ward and spoke with mothers with HIV whose babies were born HIV-free. They also saw the new cervical cancer clinic, and learned about the country’s plans to begin screen-and-treat services in the coming months.
At Windhoek Central, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon signed an agreement to collaborate on programming to prevent cervical cancer. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon will work with countries to integrate cervical cancer programming into their HIV/AIDS grants from the Global Fund.
Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Geingos also hosted a breakfast focused on the important work of investing in women and girls, and announced that the Bush Institute’s First Ladies Initiative will work with Mrs. Geingos and her staff to share best practices and build capacity for key education efforts like her Be Free program. Mrs. Geingos was interviewed for the Bush Institute’s recently released research report called A Role Without a Rulebook: The Influence and Leadership of Global First Ladies
, where she discussed how her own background has influenced the work she’s taken on in public office.
This was President Bush’s seventh visit and Mrs. Bush’s seventh visit to the African continent since their time in the White House. Their travel in 2011, 2012, and 2013 included visits to Zambia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Botswana.