April 25, 2007
Contact:
Leah Yoon, NPR
 | 

FIRST LADY LAURA BUSH URGES
ACTION ON COUNTRY’S FIRST NATIONAL
MALARIA AWARENESS DAY;
DISCUSSES THE IMPORTANCE OF FAITH-BASED
INITIATIVES AND SEX EDUCATION
ON NPR NEWS & NOTES

INTERVIEW AIRS TODAY, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25

FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW;
AUDIO AVAILABLE AT WWW.NPR.ORG
CALLS AMERICANS’ ACTION A “MORAL IMPERATIVE”


April 25, 2007; Los Angeles, CA – First Lady Laura Bush is urging all American families to donate $10 to MalariaNoMore.org for life-saving bed nets to join the fight against malaria by April 25th, the first national Malaria Awareness Day. In an interview with Farai Chideya airing today on NPR News & Notes, the First Lady explains the role and impact every American can directly have on saving lives in Africa saying, “I know that malaria is a huge problem, and the reason it’s so important for us in the United States and people around the world to talk about it is because we know it can be eradicated. And because it can be permanently eradicated, it’s really, I think, a moral imperative on everyone to make sure that happens in Africa.”

The First Lady also discussed the challenges of disease prevention in developing countries, including African nations.

On the U.S. approach to promote abstinence over the use of condoms in fighting AIDS in Africa and around the world:

“I think there is a lot of criticism of discussing abstinence, but I think in a society where there are a lot of gender issues, it’s very important for girls to know that they do not have to comply with the wishes of men, and that girls can remain abstinent. I think it’s an important message, especially for girls to get, but for boys too.

The other two pieces – the faithful – being faithful with only one partner so that you don’t either spread HIV if you already have it or get HIV and then give it to your wife or to your partner, and then the use of condoms, especially if you know you have HIV. That is a very, very important piece to protect your partner.

And each part is important. Condoms are very important, and the use of condoms are very important, and we need to have that message out, sure. But I also think that the other two messages are important as well.”

On the use of faith-based organizations in Africa to provide social programs:

“Well, the upside is that many of these faith-based organizations are already there, and this includes churches and synagogues that are there, that are local. They are already on the ground, they – in many parts of Africa, they are the one really trusted group – the church in the local community or the mosque.

And so Catholic Charities is also very active. There are a number of evangelical churches, World Vision, and a number of others – I know that Rick Warren is very active in a number of countries in Africa. Working with local pastors when I was in Africa before, one of the most moving moments I had is when I went to one of these sites where pastors of local churches were revealing their HIV status. And because of the stigma associated with HIV, many people won’t even be tested; they don’t even want to know because they don’t want to be discriminated against because of their HIV status, that pastors had realized that if they let their congregations know what their own HIV status was that they could encourage their congregations to get tested, to start on antiretrovirals, and really live with AIDS instead of worrying about dying.”

A complete transcript of the interview is below. All excerpts must be credited to NPR News’ News & Notes. Any television use of excerpts must have NPR logo on-screen identifying the soundbyte. Audio of the interview will be available at www.npr.org

News & Notes, hosted by Farai Chideya from the NPR West studios in Culver City, Calif., is heard by nearly 700,000 listeners each week and explores fascinating issues and people from an African American perspective. For stations and broadcast times, visit www.NPR.org/stations

-NPR-

MS. CHIDEYA: We are thrilled to commemorate this, the very first National Malaria Awareness Day, with the woman who helped make it happen: First Lady Laura Bush. Thanks so much for coming on.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks, Farai. Thanks for covering Malaria Day.

MS. CHIDEYA: Well, it’s important to us. It’s part of, you know, what we do as a show, and I’ve traveled a lot through African nations and certainly seen the need.

Tell me what your relationship to this is. I know that this is not something that you just got into. I guess – start me out a little bit with some of your trips to the continent of Africa because I know that you’ve been there more than once, and your daughter, in fact, was there for a time.

MRS. BUSH: That’s right. That’s right. Barbara worked in South Africa at a hospital there.

When I’ve traveled, every time I’ve heard stories about malaria. I know the statistics, the toll or the human toll and suffering with malaria. Some – many babies die across Sub-Saharan Africa – over a million a yea with malaria.

When I was in Rwanda, I asked all of the – Mrs. Kagami had a luncheon for me with all the women leaders – and the government of Rwanda has a lot of women leaders – and I asked around my table, “Has everyone here had malaria?” – just wondering if it was really as common as it seems to be. And they laughed and said yes. Every one of them had had malaria, mainly as children, and they, at this age, had sort of developed a – you know, a little bit of an immunity to malaria.

But I know that malaria is a huge problem, and the reason it’s so important for us in the United States and people around the world to talk about it is because we know it can be eradicated. And because it can be permanently eradicated, it’s really, I think, a moral imperative on everyone to make sure that happens in Africa.

MS. CHIDEYA: What is your goal with the National Malaria Awareness Day? There obviously have been – you’ve had other events in the past, but this is the first one, and what do you hope to accomplish with this?

MRS. BUSH: That’s right. Today is the first National Malaria Day. This day was designated last December at a White House summit and conference on malaria, and what we hope to accomplish is really to just get the word out so that people know that malaria is still a problem in many parts of the world.

We had malaria in the United States. There was malaria here in Washington along the Potomac, as well as along the Mississippi, and in a great part of the southeastern part of the United States, and we know it’s eradicated. We eradicated it around the first of the last century. Around the same time, it was eradicated in Panama during the digging of the Panama canal, and so we know it can be eradicated, and that makes it even more imperative for all of us to work together to make sure it’s eradicated across Sub-Saharan African.

The toll is not only so high with suffering and malaria – they say that malaria is – you feel so bad and so sick when you have malaria that you wish you would just go ahead and die, one friend told me who had had it, and we know that not only is it so difficult on everyone, and on families that lose their children, but also it’s very difficult on governments and economies. When a lot of people are too sick to work, when they are filled – when the hospitals are filled with malaria, it really is very difficult for economies to get a good footing.

So not only – if we can eradicate it in these targeted Sub-Saharan African countries, we’ll – not only will it be great for the people who live there, but it will also be good for those economies and those governments.

MS. CHIDEYA: What’s America’s stake in this – and I don’t mean even just the U.S. government, but there are a lot of issues that Americans have on their minds right now: the economy, national security – all of these issues. Why would someone who is already feeling maybe a little overburdened tune into this one?

MRS. BUSH: Because there is something people can do that is very, very direct, and especially I’d like to reach out to families to think about involving your children in this. If you can raise $10, you can call Malaria No More, or look on the Internet, Malaria No More, and be able to give an insecticide-treated bed net to a child or a mother and a child in Africa, and save a life. And there is something very, very direct about being able to – just by giving $10 – to be able to save a life in Africa. I think for children especially – and there is a great little book that Scholastic produced with Malaria No More called “Nets are Nice,” and it’s about basketball nets, butterfly nets, fishing nets, volleyball nets, and then it’s also about mosquito nets, and it’s written for first graders. You can download it for free off the Malaria No More website, and then Scholastic is also distributing it for free to schools around the country.

So it’s a great way for young people in the United States and particularly children to learn about Africa, that country that – that continent that seems so exotic and has the animals that everyone in the world are fascinated with, to learn also what American children can do to reach – to directly reach children in Africa, and one thing to do is to raise money for mosquito nets.

MS. CHIDEYA: A lot of times in developing countries, including African nations, different diseases basically work together to keep people in a state of ill health, so you have not only malaria; you also have TB, you also have AIDS. And I know that you have also worked with, for example, AIDS in Africa, and your daughter Barbara was in –

MRS. BUSH: A hospital in Cape –

MS. CHIDEYA: A hospital in Cape Town, and the Khayelitsha townships there are places where the AIDS infection rate is extremely high. Do you see these different pieces of the puzzle fitting together, and what would you like to do about the broader picture of health in Africa?

MRS. BUSH: Well, they really do fit together, and the other piece that’s a part of it is malnutrition. If your immune system is already compromised because of HIV or malaria or tuberculosis, malnutrition is that much harder on you. So there should be a very comprehensive approach to both eradicating malaria and at the same time treating people with HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis, and making sure that people get the food that they need, the nutrition they need to stay in good health.

I just read – you probably read the same article; I think it was maybe in the Wall Street Journal – in Kenya some programs that are not only treating AIDS with antiretrovirals, but they’re also encouraging families to become farmers, to grow some of their own food, as they also distribute food. But as people get stronger, after they get over the malnutrition, they’re much better able to handle diseases like HIV and malaria. So it’s all a big part. There is a lot of – each one has a part in eradicating malaria.

Another important part is education, and this also goes along with malaria and HIV/AIDS, and that is to make sure people know how to use a bed net safely, how to use indoor spraying in a way that is safe for everyone, what the medicines are. Some of these medicines for malaria have become resistant to malaria because people have used them incorrectly, although there now are new combinations that are much more effective. And then of course the education on how to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds, the standing water and the other places that mosquitoes breed. So there is an education piece that is in all of it. And certainly we know that education for children across the continent of Africa will really mean a huge difference for the next generation.

MS. CHIDEYA: You have been very conscious of bringing faith-based organizations to Africa to travel there as the administration of your husband has included faith-based organizations in all different walks of social programs. What is the upside to you, and is there a downside to doing that?

MRS. BUSH: Well, the upside is that many of these faith-based organizations are already there, and this includes churches and synagogues that are there, that are local. They are already on the ground, they – in many parts of Africa, they are the one really trusted group – the church in the local community or the mosque. And so they are there already, they already know people, they already have a congregation and a way to reach out to, for instance, pass out bed nets or to help with spraying.

And so Catholic Charities is also very active. There are a number of evangelical churches, World Vision, and a number of others – I know that Rick Warren is very active in a number of countries in Africa. Working with local pastors when I was in Africa before, one of the most moving moments I had is when I went to one of these sites where pastors of local churches were revealing their HIV status. And because of the stigma associated with HIV, many people won’t even be tested; they don’t even want to know because they don’t want to be discriminated against because of their HIV status, that pastors had realized that if they let their congregations know what their own HIV status was that they could encourage their congregations to get tested, to start on antiretrovirals, and really live with AIDS instead of worrying about dying.

MS. CHIDEYA: In South Africa, the government has been criticized recently for not doing enough to stop AIDS from anything ranging from the red tape, which ultimately did not result in a conviction against the deputy president and then – a view that the government as a whole has not been active enough. In the U.S. at this current point, we do not emphasize condoms as much as we emphasize abstinence when we talk about AIDS. Do you see that as a risk in America’s role in fighting AIDS in Africa and around the world?

MRS. BUSH: Well, the president’s malaria – I mean, the president’s emergency plan on AIDS relief does emphasize the ABC program that has been effective in Uganda, which is abstinence, be faithful, and use – consistent use of condoms. So they do – they realize that there is a role for everything. I think there is a lot of criticism of discussing abstinence, but I think in a society where there are a lot of gender issues, it’s very important for girls to know that they do not have to comply with the wishes of men, and that girls can remain abstinent. I think it’s an important message, especially for girls to get, but for boys too.

The other two pieces – the faithful – being faithful with only one partner so that you don’t either spread HIV if you already have it or get HIV and then give it to your wife or to your partner, and then the use of condoms, especially if you know you have HIV. That is a very, very important piece to protect your partner.

And each part is important. Condoms are very important, and the use of condoms are very important, and we need to have that message out, sure. But I also think that the other two messages are important as well.

MS. CHIDEYA: Let’s turn to an age group that is a little bit younger. You have been someone who has championed schools, libraries, and also education for boys. At this point, how has – since you launched an initiative to really look at how boys are faring in America, what have you learned.

MRS. BUSH: Well, I learned that we have all bought into the stereotypes don’t need the nurturing and the protection that we give girls – that boys aren’t supposed to cry, for instance – you know, they are supposed to be tough. And the fact is, children, boys and girls, both need nurturing and protection from their parents, from the adults in their lives, and I think we, as a country, really need to look at the way we have treated boys, and make sure we are giving boys the same nurturing that girls get.

We know all of the statistics; there are many more girls and women in college, in graduate programs and undergraduate now than boys. We know that boys are more likely to be arrested, they are more likely to get in trouble, they are more likely to drop out of school, and we really need to think in our country what we can do to make sure boys can be as successful as girls are now.

One piece is the lack of men in boys’ lives. Many, many children across the country are growing up without a father in their home, and for boys it’s – for boys and girls, this is difficult, but especially for boys, the lack of the disabled role model is a serious problem. So it’s important for men to consider teaching so they can be role models for boys in school, and also for men who have the time to volunteer in Boys and Girls Clubs or Big brothers, Big Sisters, to really try to reach out to the boys in their neighborhoods so that boys can learn what it is to be a man.

There are a lot of great programs. The Boys and Girls Club have a Passport to Manhood program. Does this, that talks about the characteristics of a man that we want boys to have.

MS. CHIDEYA: So, Mrs. Bush, when you look back at some of the first ladies who proceeded you, everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Nancy Reagan, and of course your own mother-in-law, what message do you get about women in leadership, and where you fall on the spectrum of taking this role that you’ve been in for six years and making it your own.

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think what happens of course, and what is the benefit to our country, is that all of the president’s wives have used whatever they were already interested in – like, I’m a teacher and a librarian, so of course education has been one of my main focus, but also as the – a presidency goes along, there are a lot of things we learn; there are a lot of opportunities that have been presented to me – for instance, my opportunity to travel in Africa, which has given me the chance to address local issues that are important, and also given me the chance to let the American people know what they are doing through their government – a lot of really good things, from the President’s Malaria Initiative, to the PEPFAR, the Emergency Relief Plan for AIDS, to the African Education Initiative, which is a huge scholarship and teacher training initiative to make sure children in Africa can go to school, especially girls.

These are all – I might have never guessed that I would have even been able to go to Africa, much less work on these issues at an earlier point in my life. But it’s been very, very interesting for me, and very fulfilling. And I hope the American people know what good they are doing around the world with a lot of these initiatives through our government, as well as so many private initiatives and charities and churches.

MS. CHIDEYA: Well, First Lady –

MRS. BUSH: They reach out everywhere.

MS. CHIDEYA: Thank you for being so generous with your time. First Lady Laura Bush, thank you.

MRS. BUSH: Thanks so much.

MS. CHIDEYA: Bye-bye.

MRS. BUSH: Take care.

(END)