Africa Health, Education Programs Get Boost from U.S. First Lady

By Lea Terhune
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – Winding up an eventful trip to Africa, U.S. first lady Laura Bush voiced support and promised more aid for nations struggling with HIV/AIDS and malaria, and to those striving to raise literacy levels. She completed her five-day tour in Mali June 29, after visits to Senegal, Mozambique and Zambia.

In Zambia, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Mark Dybul, who accompanied Bush on her trip, announced that U.S. aid to that country would be increased by $266 million over five years.

“We need broader efforts to fight the AIDS pandemic and to prevent new infections especially in Africa because this is where there are 70 percent of AIDS orphans,” he told journalists in Lusaka June 28. The money will come from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Zambia originally was slated to receive $534 million in the first four years of the PEPFAR program, but that amount will be increased to $800 million, he said.

Laura Bush toured Zambian projects funded by PEPFAR, the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and an umbrella group of companies called the Global Business Coalition. That organization works with government and nongovernmental organizations to implement aid programs. The first lady announced that 500,000 mosquito nets would be distributed to protect people from malaria, a disease that often takes a greater toll than AIDS in Zambia, according to the Zambia Malaria Foundation.

At Lusaka’s Regiment Basic School, Bush and her daughter, Jenna Bush, inaugurated a PlayPump, a combination merry-go-round and water pump which harnesses young exuberance to provide a reliable source of clean water. It frees the children from having to bring water from home each day.

The two projects are examples of the public-private partnerships the Bush administration has promoted in the developing world. The mosquito net distribution project draws in entities as diverse as the Coca-Cola Company, Johnson & Johnson, the Case Foundation and the National Basketball Association, whose NBACares foundation is a partner in Nothing But Nets, a grassroots campaign to prevent malaria deaths in Africa.

A message the first lady repeated throughout her tour of Africa was the importance of faith-based groups.

“Religious institutions bring a personal healing touch to the fight against AIDS,” she told a gathering at the Mutata Memorial Center. The center, through a network of volunteers, provides home-based care for those infected with HIV/AIDS, for orphans and vulnerable children, and it educates about HIV/AIDS transmission and protection. It is supported by RAPIDS, a consortium of organizations including World Vision, the Salvation Army, Africare, Catholic Relief Services and the Population Council.

Her trip began in Senegal, where she and Jenna visited Fann Hospital, in Dakar, with Senegal’s first lady, Viviane Wade. The hospital treats people living with AIDS, bolstering their nutrition. Steve Bolinger started a garden at the hospital when he was in the Peace Corps, and remained afterward to found Development in Gardening (DIG), a nongovernmental organization that helps HIV/AIDS victims maintain quality of life. Both hospital and garden programs are funded partially by USAID.

Bush told reporters on the flight to Senegal that it is important for Africa that the cooperation between the United States government and African governments “on the ground” be effective and tries “to stretch the money the furthest so that the most people get help.”

At the African Education Initiative (AEI) scholarship awards ceremony at Dakar’s Grand Medine Primary School, the first lady was joined by Grammy-winning Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour, also a U.N. goodwill ambassador and advocate for improvement of African health.

“An investment in education, no matter how significant, is always worth it,” former educator Laura Bush told the audience, adding education helps governments fulfill their obligations to their citizens. In this endeavor, she said “[T]he American people are proud to partner with you.”

The AEI helped provide nearly half a million books to children in Senegal. Bush said that over the summer, AEI will deliver another 800,000 textbooks to Senegalese children. “Educated citizens will keep themselves in better heath, and pass their knowledge along to their communities and to their children,” she said.

A highlight of her trip to Mozambique was the announcement that $507 million would be given from the U.S.-funded Millennium Challenge Corporation to help build infrastructure and tackle malaria. While in Maputo, the first lady toured facilities of members of the Inter-Religious Campaign Against Malaria in Mozambique. A pediatric hospital and a women’s support group, Positive Tea, were among her stops. Promotion of malaria spraying and handing out insecticide-treated mosquito nets was part of her program.

Women’s empowerment was another focus of the first lady’s Africa tour. She participated in a roundtable on the subject in Mozambique, and visited two facilities in Zambia, Flame and WORTH, that work with vulnerable children, single mothers, widows and the elderly to give them more options in life. WORTH offers microcredit schemes that finance small business ventures.

Bush expressed admiration for the dedicated caregivers, many of whom are volunteers, who go out to the sick and who help educate people about HIV/AIDS, a disease which still carries a heavy stigma in Africa.  

Her final stop was Bamako, Mali, where she visited an AEI-funded school and highlighted Millennium Challenge Corporation compact with the government that aims to reduce poverty through a five-year, $460.8 million economic development program.

An online journal of Laura Bush’s visit is available on the Web site

For additional information on U.S. assistance, see Millennium Challenge Account and HIV/AIDS.