ABUJA, Nigeria – First Lady Laura Bush on Wednesday reaffirmed U.S. commitment to help Nigeria treat AIDS patients and stem the spread of HIV, saying she hoped that "one day an entire generation" will be free of the disease that has ravaged Africa.
The first lady, winding up her four-day swing through Western Africa, highlighted the $163 million in U.S. assistance that will receive in 2006 to fight AIDS.
"We are all hopeful that one day an entire generation will be born free of HIV," Mrs. Bush said in a speech to the National Center for Women's Development in the Nigerian capital.
The crowd applauded with Mrs. Bush talked about attending Monday's inauguration of Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman president elected in Africa. She said Sirleaf is an example for women all over the world of what can be accomplished through hard work and a strong belief in education and democracy.
"The question we must answer now is 'how do we nurture the development of the next generation of women leaders in Africa and worldwide?'"' Mrs. Bush asked. "The answer begins with education."
Earlier, Mrs. Bush drove to the dusty outskirts of Abuja to visit a small AIDS clinic where a young woman told her of how drugs helped her escape death from the disease. Mrs. Bush visited St. Mary's Hospital, where she stood next to four cartons of anti-retroviral drugs —— enough to treat 500 people over the next year. It is the first U.S.-backed shipment of the drugs St. Mary's has received through President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
In 2004, The United States provided Nigeria with nearly $71 million to help treat and prevent AIDS, a figure increased to $110 million in 2005. Nigeria is getting $163 million in fiscal year 2006.
Mrs. Bush sat under shade tree to hear the stories of clinic workers and patients, including Toyin Yomi, 26, whose frail body was clad in a colorful navy dress and shawl. She tested positive for HIV in 1999 and started her first round of drug treatment in 2003.
Mrs. Bush nodded as the woman, who spoke in a near whisper, told her tragic, yet uplifting story. When stocks of the drug Yomi was taking were depleted, she nearly died three times. Yomi, who has been hospitalized a number of times, started a second round of drugs in April 2004 and is back on her feet.
"It's really important for people who are HIV positive to reach out to let other people know that they can be tested, they can find out they can still live a life — a positive life, a happy life," Mrs. Bush said. "That's the message we need to get out around the world."
An estimated 3.6 million Nigerians are infected with HIV, according to the State Department. About 310,000 people die each year in Nigeria, which has one-fifth of Africa's population.
Nigeria is one of the largest recipients of funds from PEPFAR, but there is serious concern that testing, monitoring and health care systems are not adequate to reach people at high risk of contracting the disease. People in their teens and 20s account for most HIV infections.
On the final day of her four-day swing through West Africa, Mrs. Bush met with Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo at his residence, and visited a public school where young people, dressed to represent different ethic groups in the nation, performed a welcome dance for her in a courtyard.
Walking past a sign that said "Remember that the girl child has a right to basic education," Mrs. Bush spoke with students who receive U.S.-backed scholarships that help pay for school fees, uniforms and supplies so they can attend school.
Her daughter, Barbara, at her side, Mrs. Bush advised the students, including one who said she dreamed of being a lawyer, to read many different types of books to prepare themselves for future education.
Before heading back to Washington, Mrs. Bush spoke at the National Center for Women's Development, the same place where President Clinton spoke about fighting AIDS in 2000.