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Point Person: Our Q&A with former President George W. Bush
Dallas Morning News George and Laura Bush returned Monday from Zambia, Tanzania and Ethiopia, where the former president and first lady launched a Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon campaign to fight cervical and breast cancer in Africa. The George W. Bush Institute, the State Department, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and others are involved in the public/private effort, which follows an initiative Bush started as president to fight AIDS and other diseases in Africa. The former president sat down Thursday with Points to discuss his trip and why Africa is a cause for him. What got you interested in Africa? Most people will associate you with Iraq, Afghanistan and Mexico. When I first got going, Condi Rice and I had a discussion at the Governor’s Mansion about the importance of Africa. What got me interested was the AIDS pandemic. I didn’t want to look back at a presidency that did nothing about a pandemic that was destroying a generation. When I got into office, the devastation was becoming so real that to have done nothing about it as president of the wealthiest nation would have been immoral. 9/11 also taught a lesson. You have to ask yourself why a group of basically coldblooded killers can recruit people. It has to be because they’re hopeless. There is nothing more hopeless, it seemed to me, than to be a child who watched their mom and dad die of AIDS and nobody helped. So, it was a national security concern as well. That’s what got me thinking hard about what to do in Africa. You’ve written that combating suffering in places like Africa is in our national interest. That doesn’t seem the way people think about national security. There are two aspects of national interest. One is national security. After 9/11 we had to reassess threats and potential threats. A potential threat is a group of hopeless children that could be recruited. And East Africa was an active place for al-Qaeda. The other aspect is economic. Trade, markets and commerce with Africa are in our national interest. Of course, there is the moral aspect. We’re a better nation when we help deal with a catastrophic crisis. And we did. Americans should take great pride in that millions are living because of our generosity. Bono told Time that Africa is for you what China was for Nixon. That you were opening a big market for America by making a counterintuitive move. Republicans hadn’t always been associated with fighting AIDS in Africa. How do you see this? Bono is a wonderful man. He is the real deal and genuinely moved by suffering. Some people, I wouldn’t say Bono although I probably surprised him by my passion for the issue, hear the word “Republican” and think we don’t care about human suffering. I’ve always felt the individual matters. Life is precious. There are so many problems that face a president. You have to set priorities. And there’s no question that a major priority had to be putting a plan in place to save lives. We were witnessing a generation being wiped out in Africa. You do sometimes think as president about your standing in history. Could you imagine what people would have said about a president who did nothing about the pandemic or did something halfhearted? I think it surprised Bono that not only were we in, we were all in. Not only monetarily. We had a strategy that was goal-oriented and created a partnership with African nations. The purpose was not only to save lives, but to leave behind a health delivery infrastructure. That’s happening. You were just in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia. How would you describe the fight against AIDS there? Progressing unbelievably. The results are staggering compared to 2008 and, definitely, 2003. How so? The infrastructure is much more developed. The number of antiretroviral drugs delivered is profound. The cost for those drugs is way down. The attitude has changed, too. Let me tell a story from our trip. We visited a Christian ministry in Zambia that was in a ghetto. A woman with AIDS stood up and told how she once was shunned by her family because of the stigma. She told of finding love in this ministry and developing a skill and how she made enough money to feed her child — and enough to feed those who shunned her. The reason I tell you that is the stigma has changed. Yes, people are still shunned, but a lot fewer. You’ve launched a Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Initiative to combat cervical cancer in Africa. Why cervical cancer? Women with HIV are four to five times more likely to get cervical cancer. I don’t think it’s acceptable to save a woman from AIDS and watch her die from cancer. Fortunately, it’s easy to treat. So we will be doing early screening. This is a way to save a lot of lives and make a measurable difference. You’re big on accountability. How will you assess the progress of this campaign? Lives saved. Clinics opened. Nurses trained. What needs to be done next to fight AIDS in Africa? Continue to fund it. The danger is that, because of budgetary constraints, we’re not going to step up as much. How would you persuade Americans that we should make that investment? Because people will die. But we’ve got a big debt. I understand big debt, but you set priorities and spend money on what works. This works. It’s a proven system. No question we have problems here. But there’s no greater priority than funding an effective system where you can prove to the taxpayer that, as a result of your generosity, somebody lives. But there are thousands of miles between here and Africa. Why shouldn’t we attend to our own problems? I understand. That’s part of the problem. The purpose of the trip was to announce the initiative, but also to remind our fellow citizens that, through their generosity, people now live. And if they die, it could create a national security issue. It certainly would create a moral issue. Although I’ve been loath to be involved in the political arena, I do want to talk about the importance of the United States taking the lead on such issues as health and democracy, for our own sake. There’s a national security issue, which we talked about, and there’s a humanitarian issue. I think we’re a better nation being involved. When somebody volunteers in a neighborhood to teach a child to read, not only is the child better off, but so is the mentor. I feel the same way collectively about this as a nation. And I feel very strongly about it. This Q&A was conducted, condensed and edited by William McKenzie, Dallas Morning News editorial columnist. His email address is email@example.com. dallasnews.com
GEORGE W. BUSH PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM
As the 13th presidential library, the Bush Library and Museum promotes an understanding of the American presidency, examines the specific time in history during which President Bush served, and provides access to official records and artifacts from the Bush Administration.
SHAPING THE FUTURE
THE GEORGE W. BUSH INSTITUTE
The Bush Institute is an action-oriented, nonpartisan policy organization that cultivates leaders, fosters policies to solve today’s most pressing challenges, and takes action to save and change lives. Our work is inspired by the principles that guide President and Mrs. Bush in public life.Full Bio
14 Things to Know About the Life-Saving Work of PEPFAR on its 14th Anniversary
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Building on America’s Leadership in Global Health
The new administration should stay the course as a strong leader in global health. This is a bipartisan effort, as both sides of the aisle have agreed on the importance of health care investments through successive Congresses and administrations, reflecting the priorities of the American people.
7 Things to Know about PEPFAR on World AIDS Day
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