Last week in Gaborone, Botswana, Laura and I sat in a small room in Tlokweng Main Clinic, a facility that recently started screening and treating women for cervical cancer. Seated with us was Leithailwe Wale, a 40-year-old woman who was diagnosed with the disease. Thanks to early detection and access to treatment, she told us, today she is alive, healthy and able to raise her son.
Good news like Leithailwe’s is becoming increasingly common in five African countries where Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is operating. Since leaving the White House, Laura and I have been heartbroken to learn that because women with HIV are more likely to have cervical cancer, people who had been saved from AIDS were needlessly dying from another treatable, preventable disease. So at the Bush Institute, we formed this global public-private partnership to fight women’s cancers.
In the past six years, more than 370,000 women have been screened for cervical cancer and 24,000 for breast cancer through Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon. More than 119,000 girls have been vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical and other cancers. Nearly 1,000 health workers have been trained. With the proper resources and international commitment, we could end cervical cancer deaths on the continent in 30 years.
Critical to this effort is our Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon partner, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). My administration launched PEPFAR in 2003 to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic that threatened to wipe out an entire generation on the continent of Africa. Nearly 15 years later, the program has achieved remarkable results in the fight against disease. Today, because of the commitment of many foreign governments, investments by partners, the resilience of the African people and the generosity of the American people, nearly 12 million lives have been saved. And nearly 2 million babies have been born HIV-free to infected mothers.
In Windhoek, Namibia - where we introduced a partnership with the government, UNAIDS, the Global Fund and Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon - Laura, the first lady of Namibia and I met some of those newborns and their moms. Almost all the mothers had AIDS, but the babies were disease-free. It was so heartwarming to see those hopeful young lives and their proud, relieved mothers - and it was a powerful reminder that we need to not only keep this effort alive, but also do more.
It is clear that the generosity of the American people has had a huge impact - one that reflects the view that all lives are precious, and to whom much is given, much is required. This lifesaving work also has a practical purpose for Americans. Societies mired in disease breed hopelessness and despair, leaving people ripe for recruitment by extremists. When we confront suffering - when we save lives - we breathe hope into devastated populations, strengthen and stabilize society, and make our country and the world safer.
As the executive and legislative branches review the federal budget, they will have vigorous debates about how best to spend taxpayers’ money - and they should. Some will argue that we have enough problems at home and shouldn’t spend money overseas. I argue that we shouldn’t spend money on programs that don’t work, whether at home or abroad. But they should fully fund programs that have proven to be efficient, effective and results-oriented. Saving nearly 12 million lives is proof that PEPFAR works, and I urge our government to fully fund it.
We are on the verge of an AIDS-free generation, but the people of Africa still need our help. The American people deserve credit for this tremendous success and should keep going until the job is done.
Bush served as 43rd president of the United States and founded the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas.