Bush speech jump-starts initiative to combat cancers in women

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In one of the first indications of how he plans to spend his post-presidential years, George W. Bush is using his presidency’s signature HIV/AIDS program to jump-start a new initiative to combat cancers in women in developing countries.

“It’s nice to be back in the ‘hood,” he told a crowd of several hundred Tuesday afternoon gathered in Washington to hear details of the partnership, led by the George W. Bush Institute, that pledges to spend $75 million over five years to expand cervical cancer screening and treatment, and breast cancer education.

Dubbed “Pink Ribbon, Red Ribbon,” the initiative aims to expand the services of clinics created under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), equipping them to combat breast and cervical cancer as they continue to provide HIV/AIDS screening and treatment. While these cancers are highly treatable - especially cervical cancer - they’re often not discovered until too late in developing countries where access to screening is limited or nonexistent.

Additionally, studies have shown strong links between the viruses that cause cervical cancer and HIV/AIDS, making HIV-positive women more likely to contract cervical cancer.

As the largest program ever initiated by one country to fight a single disease, PEPFAR was initially funded in 2003 with $15 billion to be used primary in 15 countries with the highest rates of HIV/AIDS. Most of the countries are African, with the exceptions of Haiti and Vietnam. In 2008, Congress more than tripled the initiative’s funds, to $48 billion through 2013.

“I hope the American people understand that 6.6 million people receive life-saving medicine … 6.6 million people who would be dead today now live, thanks to an effort by the American people,” Mr. Bush said.

Along with corporate partners, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the State Department are signing on to the new initiative. The State Department will contribute $30 million over five years, said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton said the strategy is to turn PEPFAR clinics into one-stop shops for women, who play a central role in the health of families and communities.

“If we want to make progress on some of the toughest challenges we face in global health, then investing in women must be at the top of the agenda,” Mrs. Clinton said. “It’s women who have to figure out how to clothe their children, it’s women who walk with a sick child miles to the nearest medical clinic and if that woman herself gets sick or dies, the family support system is broken down.”

With the exception of a recent tour to promote his memoir, Mr. Bush has spent most of the last 2 1/2 years out of the public eye. As work nears completion on the new George W. Bush Presidential Center, scheduled to open in Dallas in spring 2013, the question will be how the 43rd president will spend his post-presidency years.

Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have focused on preventing disease through their respective foundation efforts, with Mr. Clinton focusing on making treatment for HIV/AIDS, malaria and other preventable diseases more affordable. Mr. Carter received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work on human rights and eradication of diseases like Guinea worm, trachoma and malaria.

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