President Obama is offering "thoughts and prayers" to former South African President Nelson Mandela, who is in the hospital with a recurring lung infection.
The hero of the anti-apartheid movement, 94, is reportedly responding positively to treatment and is fully conscious and aware, a presidential spokesman told USA Today Thursday. Doctors hospitalized the former president in an abundance of caution given Mr. Mandela's age and history.
During a Thursday meeting with four African leaders, Mr. Obama told reporters that he was "deeply concerned" about Mr. Mandela's health.
"He's a hero I think to all of us," he said. "I'm sure that I speak for the other leaders here. And we will be keeping him in our thoughts and prayers, and his entire family."
Earlier Thursday, White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said the president had the opportunity to meet former President Mandela when he traveled to Africa as a senator, and the two have since had several telephone conversations.
The first lady and the Obamas' daughters, Malia and Sasha, met Mr. Mandela in his home when they traveled to Africa in 2011.
"I know that they found that to be a very powerful visit for them," Mr. Earnest said.
Mr. Obama spent Thursday afternoon meeting with Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma; Senegal President Macky Sall; Malawi President Joyce Banda; and Cape Verde Prime Minister Jose Maria Pereira Neves.
He talked with the leaders about ways to improve economic prosperity, tackle regional challenges, and transnational threats including terrorism and drug cartels.
Thanking the leaders, he told them: "You should know you have a great friend in the United States, in the people of the United States and in the president of the United States."
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