WASHINGTON — Former First Lady Laura Bush stressed on Thursday that women continue to play a crucial role in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.
“When you look around the world, you see that women are in the forefront of life changing progress,” she said during her speech at the International AIDS Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. “Women have been central in the fight against AIDS.”
Bush cited a woman with HIV whom she met with her husband, former President George W. Bush, in Africa last December that had been shunned by her family after her husband passed away. A faith-based organization subsequently taught her how to make purses from recycle materials. And she now supports her children and the family that had once ostracized her. “Her story is a powerful testament to why we must do more to promote the good health of women everywhere,” said the former First Lady. “The health of women affects families, communities and whole countries. Healthy mothers make healthy families.”
Bush also referenced her mother-in-law, former First Lady Barbara Bush, as someone who helped change attitudes about HIV in this country. She noted that the former First Lady held babies and hugged people with AIDS and met with families of those who had lost loved ones to the epidemic at a time when stigma against those with the virus was rampant. Barbara Bush also visited the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall.
“Her graceful example challenged all Americans to confront HIV/AIDS with care and compassion, rather than fear and judgment,” said Laura Bush.
She further categorized the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that her husband announced during his 2003 State of the Union address as a blueprint to fight other global epidemics. PEPFAR committed $15 billion over five years to fund HIV prevention efforts, anti-retroviral drugs for those living with the virus and programs for children orphaned by AIDS.
Laura Bush stressed that both she and her husband have seen “first-hand the devastating toll of AIDS” during several trips they made to Africa during and after his presidency. She further recalled a young girl wearing a lavender dress that she and her daughter Barbara met at a Botswanan pediatric clinic a few months after the then-president announced PEPFAR.
“This precious little child lay on an examining table so frail and sick; her mother’s last hope was to make her beautiful,” said Laura Bush, who visited the same facility three weeks ago. “Today with access to anti-retrovirals, that little girl would have another chance at life.”
Statistics continue to show that women and girls remain disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS.