- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

GWAGWALADA, Nigeria — First lady Laura Bush brought drugs to AIDS patients in a rural hospital yesterday, announcing the U.S. would spend millions to prevent impoverished women from passing the disease to their children.

“That’s so important, if we can stop the transmission from mother to child — it really protects the next generation,” she told patients and medical officials outside St. Mary’s Hospital.

Standing in front of the first shipment of anti-retroviral treatment for about 500 people, Mrs. Bush announced a new commitment of $163 million to help Nigeria treat AIDS this year.

Mrs. Bush and her daughter, Barbara, later sat under a shade tree and listened to the harrowing stories of AIDS patients. One of them was Agnes Achov, 34, an unemployed widow and mother of eight children, all of whom have tested HIV negative.

Another was Ann Udeh, 28, who named her daughter Testimony because the girl did not contract HIV from her mother.

“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,” she said. “They can still live a life, a positive life, a happy life. And that’s the message we need to get out around the world.”

Mrs. Bush has been advocating women’s empowerment on her four-day tour of West Africa, which has included stops in Ghana, Liberia (for the inauguration of the continent’s first elected female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) and Nigeria.

To that end, Mrs. Bush spent some time at Nigeria’s National Center for Women’s Development.

“The people of the United States believe in Africa’s future,” she said. “We know, as you do, that education is vital to a better future for all the world’s children. And we are working with you to make education available and accessible to more children in Africa.”

Education has been a major theme of the first lady’s tour of Africa. Yesterday, the former elementary schoolteacher visited a secondary school in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, stopping in several classrooms to talk with students and teachers.

Mrs. Bush plans to continue emphasizing education back in the U.S.

“I’m really interested in ways to beef up science and math for middle school- and high school-age children, and that’s something we’ll be talking about in the future that is new, really,” she told The Washington Times in an interview. “That’s a way for American students to stay competitive with students from around the world.”

Mrs. Bush also told The Times that she will meet in Washington later this year with African mothers who “counsel other mothers who are HIV-positive to get them to take anti-retrovirals with the goal of having babies that are HIV-free.”

The first lady and her twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, met some of the mothers in Africa last year.

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