- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2007

DAKAR, SenegalFirst lady Laura Bush picked vegetables and handed out mosquito nets yesterday to emphasize that fighting AIDS in Africa also means tackling some of the continent’s even more widespread afflictions: malnutrition and malaria.

“It’s often overlooked that one of the essential things in the treatment of AIDS or HIV is good nutrition,” she said after touring a garden whose produce is used to supplement the meals of AIDS patients at a Dakar hospital.

Mrs. Bush gave mosquito nets to AIDS patients as a doctor explained that insect-borne malaria — the biggest killer in Senegal — is even more dangerous for those who are HIV-positive.

The first lady and her daughter Jenna are on a four-nation African tour during which Mrs. Bush is to focus on how the United States can help a poverty-stricken continent provide health care and economic opportunity. Mrs. Bush also is visiting Mozambique, Zambia and Mali on her third trip to Africa.

They were accompanied yesterday by Senegal’s first lady, Viviane Wade, and her daughter. The four women picked eggplant and kale at the Fann Hospital garden in this West African capital. AIDS patients at the hospital tend the garden.

Malnutrition is a serious problem in Senegal and the surrounding region, where poverty determines food choices. In parts of West Africa, fruits and vegetables disappear during the dry season, and diabetes is increasingly common in the region.

Last month, President Bush called on Congress to authorize an additional $30 billion to fight AIDS in Africa, a figure that would double the U.S. commitment to the continent. The current program, which provided $15 billion for five years, expires next year.

Mr. Bush’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief has supported treatment for 1.1 million people in 15 countries, he said in calling for the program’s renewal.

The AIDS garden and the mosquito net program have both been recipients of U.S. funding. The U.S. government has allocated $16.7 million to anti-malarial programs in Senegal this year, and plans to continue at a similar level through 2010.

There are between 300 million and 500 million malaria cases each year in Africa and 1 million deaths. In some African countries, the disease accounts for up to half of all hospital admissions.

“We just eradicated malaria in the United States in about 1950. We know malaria can be eradicated, and so we stand with you as you try to eradicate malaria in Senegal,” Mrs. Bush said.

Still, some international organizations have complained that the Bush administration has committed only to maintaining current funding levels at a time when the crisis is growing.

Still, West Africa generally has a lower prevalence of AIDS than eastern and southern Africa, and Senegal is often held up as an example that the disease has not doomed the continent.

The country has one of the lowest rates in the region. A range of reasons have been given, including an organized education effort by the government, a strong culture of conservative Muslim values, a tradition of male circumcision, and the distance from the southern African countries where AIDS first took hold in Africa.