WASHINGTON – Laura Bush got another honorary title to add to first lady on Monday, when a group of HIV-positive mothers visiting from South Africa said they consider her their "grandmother."
Mrs. Bush invited the women to the White House after meeting them during a trip to their country last year. She said she was inspired by the work the women are doing to help each other cope with the devastating diagnosis, which many discover for the first time during prenatal care.
"As a mother, I know it must seem like the end of the world to learn that you have HIV or AIDS, and to think that your baby might be born with HIV, too," the first lady told dignitaries gathered in the East Room to hear the women tell stories and sing together.
Babalwa Mbono, the senior site coordinator at a maternity unit Mrs. Bush visited outside Cape Town, told how she discovered she was HIV-positive in 2002 when she was pregnant with her second child. She said her sister had already died from AIDS and it turned out her husband had the virus, too. But she said she has learned to live well with the diagnosis and is helping others cope.
"We would like to say to Mrs. Bush, keep up the work that you're doing with HIV/AIDS," she said. "We want people to be able to help groups like this that we have in South Africa in Cape Town, who can be able to be strong and beat up the HIV."
The women were part of The Mothers' Programmes, a private organization that receives some assistance through President Bush's five-year, $15 billion anti-AIDS effort.
"We're including Mrs. Bush," Mbono said as she introduced the rest of her group. "Mrs. Bush is our grandmother."
Mrs. Bush also announced a new partnership between the U.S. government, drug companies and international organizations to develop more effective treatments for children with HIV and AIDS. The groups are sharing information and plan to develop a budget after their first meeting on April 19, federal officials said.