By Timo Shihepo & Bakang Mhaladi
Windhoek/Gaborone – Former United States of America president George W. Bush has urged Namibia, Botswana and Africa at large not to rest on their laurels now that a breakthrough in reducing HIV/Aids and cancer on the continent has been made.
Bush, accompanied by his wife, Laura, visited Namibia and Botswana this week with the focus on how to improve the lives of women and girls with access to education, health care, and economic opportunities that lead to increased stability and security. His visit was also to see how First Ladies address these issues in their countries.
His visit comes 14 years after he announced in his 2003 State of the Union Address the $15 billion President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) to combat global HIV/Aids.
Speaking during his visit to Windhoek Central Hospital, Bush commended African governments for making significant strides in terms of reducing HIV as well as cancer, specifically cervical cancer.
He said it was good to see that more and more African governments were now committing a large chunk of their national budgets to combat these issues. He, however, said much still has to be done.
“I am still not happy with the fact that you still find women who were saved from dying of HIV/Aids but go on to die from cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is relatively easy to detect and these shouldn’t be happening. “The mother-to-child transmission of HIV should also continue to be taken seriously. All these issues are equally disheartening,” he said.
Bush said it was, however, encouraging to see that a lot of people were now going for cancer screening as well as for HIV/Aids testing. He said governments could not fund these programmes alone and that they needed help from wherever they could get it.
“I am happy that institutions like PEPFAR and Pink Ribbon are still assisting African governments’ on tackling these issues.”
Namibia’s First Lady Monica Geingos also bemoaned the lack of involvement by the private sectors in helping fund these programmes.
She said if it wasn’t for institutions such as the Global Fund, Pink Ribbon and PEPFAR, African governments would find it twice as hard to combat these issues.
Since 2003, the US government has dedicated US$1.3 billion to the fight against HIV/Aids in Namibia, saving thousands of Namibian lives.
In 2002, President Bush called for “a new compact for global development” and launched the Millennium Challenge Account, which from 2009 to 2014 provided more than US$300 million to Namibia towards education, tourism, and agriculture projects.
It was, however, feared that such aid would be reduced or be stopped altogether by new US administration. This comes after US President Donald Trump said he was seeking to reduce his country’s contribution to United Nations programmes, as part of cuts to funding of US diplomacy and foreign aid in his administration’s budget proposals.
The United Nations said abrupt funding cuts from USA could force the adoption of ad hoc measures that would undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts.
Geingos said that Namibia and Africa at large had come so far and could not afford to disrupt the current funding model. Bush praised Geingos for her tremendous work in the country and vowed to do whatever he could to make sure that these programmes continued to be funded.
Bush also commended the country saying progress had been made because the Namibian government was willing to spend money and had good leadership. He said it was important to the American people to know that their help was still needed.
He said if America were to walk away now from PEPFAR, millions of people would suffer.
“We went to a clinic where babies were born to moms who have HIV but the babies were HIV free and it was so heart-warming, so touching to see little human lives that are able to live a healthy life. We are so happy to keep this support alive. We are thrilled to be in your beautiful country and would like to thank the First Lady for her leadership and willingness to speak up.”
In August 2014, the former President Bush’s Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon that helped accelerate life-saving cervical cancer screening was launched in Namibia and Ethiopia.
As a result, screening services have been established at Windhoek Central and Katutura state hospitals in Windhoek. Also nine cryotherapy machines, nine digital cameras for cervicography, and two Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure machines were donated to the Ministry of Health and Social Services.
In collaboration with PEPFAR and UNAIDS, the campaign has helped hundreds of thousands of women for cervical cancer in Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Zambia.
Bush also visited Botswana to promote Aids relief programme and to appreciate progress made in the HIV/AIDS fight. He visited a clinic on the outskirts Gaborone which benefits from PEPFAR.
The Tlokweng clinic specialises in screening and treatment for cervical cancer and Bush said this had saved many lives.
He emphasised the critical role of PEPFAR and hoped the Trump administration would recognise its importance.
“While progress has been made we’ve got to continue to stay in this battle in order to save lives.
Every human life matters. And I hope the people of America understand that through their generosity millions now live,” Bush said.
PEPFAR, launched in 2003 during Bush’s reign, is the world’s largest provider of anti-retroviral drugs and also provides services for cervical cancer, which is linked to HIV infections in women.
Bush held a meeting with President Ian Khama before visiting the Tlokweng clinic and Therisanyo School in Gaborone where he appreciated the country’s vaccination programmes.