Bush Visits Botswana, a Nation Devastated by AIDS

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President Bush is learning firsthand about how AIDS (search) is devastating Africa in a visit to Botswana (search), where nearly four of every 10 adults carry the virus that causes the deadly disease — the highest infection rate in the world.

Bush is in sub-Saharan Africa promoting a $15 billion plan to combat AIDS. Botswana, his scheduled stop on Thursday, is the third on his five-nation tour of a continent battling hunger and suffering from civil unrest.

"People across Africa had the will to fight this disease, but often not the resources," Bush said Wednesday. "The United States of America is willing to put up the resources to help in the fight."

He spent Wednesday in South Africa, a Texas-sized country that the United States views as a model of stability on the continent. The diamond-rich country has kept a surplus for 12 of the last 13 years, has no domestic debt and little foreign debt, according to the U.S. State Department.

In contrast, neighboring Botswana is facing a potential AIDS disaster.

Fourteen countries in Africa and the Caribbean account for nearly half of the world's HIV infections, but Botswana is especially hard-hit. More than 38 percent of its adult population is infected with HIV. The life expectancy is 39.9 years for its citizens ages 15-49.

Botswana's President Festus Mogae (search) has adopted Africa's most aggressive response to the disease, including a promise to provide AIDS medicines free of charge to all who need them. That program is funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The United States is jointly sponsoring 16 HIV testing centers, donating money to improve health care and helping fund AIDS awareness campaigns, including a serialized radio drama dealing with AIDS-related issues.

Botswana and the other 13 hard-hit countries will share in the billions of dollars available under Bush's global AIDS initiative, a likely topic of discussion when the two presidents meet privately in Gabarone, the capital. Mogae says AIDS and the stigma it creates threatens Botswana's future.

"All gains are being reversed by HIV/AIDS," he told The Associated Press.

Trade is another issue being promoted by Bush. He was to view exhibits at a trade hub created last year by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A highlight of his day trip to Botswana will be an hour-long tour of the Mokolodi Nature Reserve, created in 1994 on donated land to promote wildlife conservation and environmental education for the country's children.

Occupying about 20 square miles of land just outside Gabarone, the reserve provides a home free of predators for elephant orphans and endangered rhinos, as well as zebra, giraffes, warthogs and steenboks. Guests are allowed to pet two resident cheetahs raised from infancy at the park.

Bush opened his first presidential tour of sub-Saharan Africa in Senegal on Tuesday. Next up are stops in Uganda on Friday and Nigeria on Saturday. He returns to the White House late Saturday.

The trip is giving Bush a close-up view of some of the continent's protracted crises, and he has been dogged by the question of whether to send U.S. peacekeepers to Liberia.

On Wednesday, Bush suggested that U.S. assistance to Liberia might consist mostly of advisers and trainers to avoid stretching American forces too thinly around the globe. Bush said U.S. money has helped pay to train seven battalions of African peacekeepers. He said it was a "sensible policy" to help the Africans help themselves "so that we never do get overextended."

Bush has invited U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the White House on Monday, along with the head of U.N. peacekeeping missions, a U.N. official in Washington said. Further details were not available.

Bush also talked Wednesday about Sudan where peace talks are to resume in July. A war broke out there in 1983 when rebels challenged the predominantly Arab and Muslim northern government in a bid to win greater autonomy for the largely Christian south. A cease-fire was extended last month. Former Sen. John Danforth was returning to the region in an effort to help end the war, Bush said.