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Remarks by Laura Bush at Susan G. Komen's Global Women's Cancer Summit

February 4, 2013 14 minute Read by Jacqueline Lowe

Remarks by Mrs. Laura Bush at Susan G. Komen's Global Women's Cancer Summit, held February 4, 2013 in Washington D.C.

Thank you, Nancy.

Thank you all for your warm welcome.  I'm happy to be with you today for this Global Cancer Summit.

Before I get started, though, I thought you might want a report on some of my family members.

You'll be happy to hear that my father-in-law, President George H. W. Bush is home from the hospital and doing very well.  President Bush and my mother-in-law, Barbara, are showing George and me the way to age with grace.  Last summer in Maine, Bar walked her dogs on the beach twice a day every day. 

From both of them, we have learned that all you know you have is now, so take advantage of your life as it is, and walk on the beach every chance you get.

George and I are happy that our girls are doing well.  Jenna and Henry Hager are happily married and, as many of you know, they are expecting our first grandchild! Jenna is working as a contributing correspondent for NBC’s Today show.

George says she is just continuing the Bush family tradition of warm relations with the media.

Our daughter Barbara has joined many of you in the health field. She has founded a non-profit called Global Health Corps that places recent college graduates in the health field in underserved areas.

Her third group of Global Health Corps fellows is at work in three cities in the United States and in Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi and Burundi. 

You can learn more about Global Health Corps if you’re interested or if you know anyone who wants to become a fellow by looking on the web at ghcorps.org.

George and I are proud of the work our girls are doing.

And we are happy to be back home in Texas, busy working on plans for the grand opening of the Bush Library and Institute in Dallas this April.

The programming of the Bush Institute has already begun.  And our global health initiative is the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon - the Executive Director, Dr. Doyin Oluwole, is here today.

Advocating for women's health has been important to me for many years.  I know that lifelong good health begins with awareness. By educating women who are too busy taking care of their children, taking care of their jobs, and taking care of everyone else to take care of themselves we can prevent or delay some of today's most common and devastating conditions.

A lot has changed in the 31 years since Nancy Brinker started Susan G. Komen for the Cure in honor of her sister Suzy.  Back then, people seldom talked about breast cancer. Women didn't know how to protect themselves.   And because they didn't get regular mammograms or do breast self-exams, breast cancer was often diagnosed too late.

But Nancy, thanks to your three decades of tireless work, millions of volunteers offer their time and energy to raise awareness of breast cancer and to raise funds to find a cure.

Today all Americans know what the pink ribbon stands for.  American women talk openly about breast cancer – and survivors, like my mother, Jenna Welch, share stories of triumph.

As the invitation chair for Nancy’s early fundraising luncheons in Dallas 22 years ago, I would never have imagined that Susan G. Komen for the Cure would broaden its reach to all corners of the world.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 1.6 million people worldwide are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Many live in countries where the disease carries stigma and shame. By sharing the lessons we've learned, Americans can empower more women to detect breast cancer early, which today is the closest we have to a cure.

Work that started in Nancy’s living room in Dallas is now saving the lives of women in Budapest, Dubai, Guadalajara, Sao Paolo, Rome, and other cities around the world.

In 2007 when George was President, I traveled to the Middle East to announce a Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer. The Middle East has high mortality rates from breast cancer.  Women diagnosed often face social ostracism: their husbands might abandon them, their sons might turn their backs, and their daughters can be considered unmarriageable.

But the region also has some brave advocates for women and for women's health.  One of them is in this room with us today, Dr. Samia Al-Amoudi. 

Dr. Samia is living proof of a survivor's power to speak out and save lives. She is one of the first Saudi women to speak publicly about her experience with the disease. She uses her weekly column to write about her struggle with breast cancer, and she shares her story in books, newspapers, and television interviews.  Dr. Samia please stand so we can recognize you. Dr. Samia has just been appointed as a member of the Board of Directors of the Union for International Cancer Control.

Dr. Samia’s example and that of many other women I’ve met in my travels illustrate an encouraging and powerful phenomenon. 

Women are increasingly agents of change in our world – acting as advocates for health and education to advance opportunities for themselves and their families.  By giving women the tools they need to succeed – such as access to education and healthcare – they not only improve the well-being of their own families, but the stability of their countries as well.

After her sister Suzy died, Nancy Brinker lay in bed at night wondering how she could make a difference.  How could one young woman change the way we confronted a deadly disease?

Twenty five years later, and halfway around the world, a woman I met in Saudi Arabia offered the answer: “I’m only one woman, she said, but together we’re a force to be reckoned with.”

By educating and empowering women to take charge of their health, we are all a force to be reckoned with.

Everyone here, individuals and organizations, has learned from Nancy Brinker and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.  Komen has been an example to us all – showing us the way to address disease and how to educate and raise awareness.

Ten years ago, HIV/AIDS raged out of control.  Worldwide, more than twenty-two million men, women, and children had died from AIDS and 15,000 people were infected with HIV every day.

In 2002, experts estimated that the AIDS pandemic could double in the next five years - to eighty million people infected with the virus.

Health professionals and leaders around the world knew dramatic action was necessary to address this crisis.

In June 2002 my husband, President Bush, spoke to a crowd gathered in the Rose Garden.

He said, “The global devastation of HIV/AIDS staggers the imagination and shocks the conscience.”  That day he announced a $500 million dollar initiative to combat AIDS by treating HIV-infected women with antiretroviral drugs to stop transmission of the virus between mothers and babies.

Six months later, in his 2003 State of the Union Address, President Bush announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the largest international health initiative ever directed at a single disease.

PEPFAR committed $15 billion dollars over five years to prevent new infections, to treat those already infected with AIDS, and to care for children orphaned by the loss of a parent to AIDS.

Later that year, George and I traveled to Africa where we saw first-hand the devastating toll of AIDS.  In a pediatric clinic in Botswana, my daughter, Barbara, and I met a mother who had brought her little girl in for treatment. She dressed her daughter like an angel, in a lovely lavender and white dress to meet the American President. This precious little child lay on an examining table, so frail and sick.  Her mother’s last hope was to make her beautiful.

Today, with access to antiretrovirals, that little girl would have another chance at life. 

In fact, last summer we returned to Botswana.  We saw that same pediatric clinic.  It now has so few patients they are looking for a new use for the facility.

Thanks to PEPFAR and to our partners, millions of lives have been saved around the world.  Mark Dybul, the director of PEPFAR and now our new executive director of the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria, I think is here with us today.

The success of Komen for the Cure and of PEPFAR has given us proven strategies to confront other health challenges.

At the Bush Institute's Global Health Summit in Washington D.C. in September 2011, President Bush announced the Institute's new partnership, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon. The Bush Institute is partnering with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the U.S. State Department through PEPFAR, and UNAIDS to screen and treat breast and cervical cancer among women in the developing world.

Several private sector partners are also supporting this initiative: Merck, Becton Dickinson, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, the Caris Foundation, Glaxo-SmithKline, IBM, QIAGEN, Airborne LifeLine, and the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Dr. Groesbeck Parham, one of our partners on the ground in Zambia, is here.

The Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Initiative is building on the PEPFAR platform to screen and treat women for breast and cervical cancer. 

Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa and is a preventable and treatable disease.  It is up to five times more common in women living with HIV.

PRRR combines the skills and know-how of the public, private and non-profit sectors to reduce deaths from women’s cancers and save lives.

PRRR not only offers screening options, but it is also changing how healthcare is provided, literally from the ground up. Local health care workers are being trained to conduct screenings and to treat patients. Vital vaccinations, like the HPV Vaccine, are being donated by our Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Partners and are being administered across the region.

New health facilities are being built, and existing ones are being refurbished.

George and I launched Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon in Zambia in December 2011.  When we returned to Zambia last July President Bush and I were thrilled to see the progress.  Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon has expanded beyond the capital city, Lusaka, and across the country.  Multiple clinics are screening, diagnosing, and treating women for cervical cancer.

We traveled to the Zambian provincial mining city of Kabwe home to some 200,000 people where we refurbished the Ngungu clinic. We spent four days re-roofing, painting and installing new medical equipment.

While our small group of volunteers worked to refresh the clinic, nurses were trained to screen for and treat cervical cancer.  When we finished the renovation, George and I stood with the clinic’s doctors and nurses, including Dr. Kennedy Lishimpi, to cut the ribbon and officially open its doors. 

And, in the clinic’s small yard, more than 30 women watched … and all of these women were screened at the clinic that day.

By the end of 2012, more than 1,500 women had been screened at Ngungu for cervical cancer lesions.  One hundred twenty-one were treated on site with cryotherapy for pre-cancerous lesions, and 348 were referred to the district General Hospital for more advanced diagnostics.

Already more than 22,000 women across Zambia have been screened – nearly 40% are HIV positive.  And nearly one-third of all the women screened tested positive for pre-cancerous or cancerous cervical cells. 

And of those who tested positive, more than 85% could be treated immediately with cryotherapy.

But these are so much more than numbers, they are lives.  Next to the Ngungu clinic is the maternity ward.

As we were painting on that July day, a mother was giving birth to a brand new baby daughter. Someone told me that the new mom had named her baby, "Laura."

When our painting was finished, I hurried next door to meet the mom and the baby.  I'd like to imagine this little Laura's future as one full of hope and free from disease, because that is what Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon stands for.

And just so you know, the city of Kabwe also has a George.  On the morning that George and I cut the ribbon for the refurbished clinic, another mother gave birth to a baby boy and named him George.

I'm not going to try to predict the future for this Laura and George, except to say that it will be brighter because of the efforts of so many of you in this room.

Thanks so much to everyone here, especially my friend Nancy Brinker, for all you do to advance the good health of women everywhere. 

Thank you all.

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