LUSAKA — Former President George W. Bush is in Africa this week to promote cervical cancer detection and treatment programs for women, many of whom are living with HIV. While Bush’s tenure in office was marked by unpopular wars and what critics say were failed economic policies, since leaving office he has been quietly building upon his success as president in fighting AIDS in Africa.
In Kabwe, Zambia's second largest city, former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura opened of a new health clinic that specializes in the early detection and treatment of cervical cancer in women.
“We care because we believe that to whom much is given, much is required," said Bush. "And those of us who live in America, live in the most blessed nation ever and therefore when we see suffering, we ought to act.”
Through his George W. Bush Center and other partner organizations, the former president has raised more than $85 million for cervical cancer programs.
He says his goal is to build upon one of the great bipartisan achievements of his presidency.
His 2003 AIDS initiative that initially funded $15 billion-worth of anti-retroviral drugs and treatment to extend the lives of millions of Africans with HIV and AIDS.
Zambia now has the second highest number of cervical cancer cases in the world, in part because many of the women infected with the disease are also living with HIV and have weakened immune systems.
“But the saddest thing of all is to know a lady's life has been saved from AIDS but died from cervical cancer," said Bush. "And so starting in Zambia, the Bush Center, along with our partners, are going to put on a cervical cancer crusade to save lives.”
Jane Chanda, who is HIV positive, is one of the first women at the center to undergo the screening. The health worker applies vinegar to the cervix area - to turn any cancerous nodes white - and then uses a digital camera to locate any potential problems. The screening shows Jane to be cancer-free and she says she is grateful to former President Bush.
“He's a very nice person," said Chanda. "I thank him and I am wishing you [him] a happy life, a good life.”
At home Bush's presidency remains a controversial subject, dominated by the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, prolonged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a deep global recession.
But in Zambia and much of Africa, he is remembered for saving lives. A mother in Kabwe who just gave birth named her baby George in honor of his visit.
J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says. Bush deserves the credit. He says in 2003, Bush saw AIDS in Africa as a humanitarian disaster - that if left unchecked could destabilize the entire continent.
“When the president came forward and said, 'HIV/AIDS - we can save lives," said Morrison. "We can enhance lives. We can stabilize societies.' It was with a very powerful ethical and moral rationale as much as it was about a security rationale.”
In his post-presidency Mr. Bush says he will continue to advocate for global health issues. For him, he says, it is a labor of love.