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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
January 18, 2006
Press Briefing by the First Lady En Route Sal Island, Cape Verde
4:02 P.M. (Local)
MRS. BUSH: We had a really great trip, and I want to thank you all for going with me. I think we really saw a lot of very interesting things in Africa. One comment that I was struck with was the comment from the Finance Minister today at the women's roundtable who said that she didn't want people around the world to think that Africans were begging for help, and that she thought that was the impression that people have of Africa, which I don't think people necessarily have the impression that Africans are begging for help, but I think we do get from the press the impression that Africans need more help. And I thought that was a very interesting comment.
I also know that the way PEPFAR -- the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief -- is set up is to use NGOs or government organizations that are already set up in the countries that are targeted with PEPFAR funds, and in a lot of ways, I think that's really a good way to do it. It doesn't look like the United States is just coming in to tell people how to use the funds, but instead are using already existing programs started by people in the countries and manned by the people in those countries and the organizations that already have a relationship with the people that they serve.
So I think that's been a part of the way PEPFAR and the Africa Education Initiative are being run by our government through these other governments.
Also, I was interested in the comment that one of the people made in the roundtable about men receiving antiretroviral drugs before women, and if there are not enough drugs, then women are left out totally. And I don't know the statistics on what she said, but I do think it's really important to try to increase antiretroviral treatment for AIDS patients worldwide as much and as fast as we can so that women and men can benefit. We know that if women who are of childbearing age can benefit from antiretroviral drugs, they can decrease the chances of their child being HIV-positive. So it's really very important, particularly for women, to get antiretroviral treatment.
Let's see what else. I met with President Obasanjo this morning. We talked a lot about what my plans were today, what I was going to be seeing today. And he talked about education in Nigeria. And we also talked about his role as President of the African Union. He has been very instrumental in his role as President of the AU and the peace in the Sudan and Cote d'Ivoire and other places. As he mentioned today, yesterday there was evidently a flare-up again in the Cote d'Ivoire. It seems to be an ongoing -- all of these issues seem to be ongoing issues in Africa. And it's really very important to have a strong African Union and to be able to use African Union troops in places like Darfur. I think they're accepted better by other countries there and can be more effective than troops from the United States, for instance.
And I guess that's it. You all can ask questions.
Q Where are you headed next?
MRS. BUSH: I'm not really sure where I'm going to go next. I'll travel in the United States, I'm sure, really. My next trip will probably be to the Gulf Coast. I went -- the last time I went to New Orleans and Mississippi was December 12th, and I haven't had a chance to go back since the New Year. So I think that will probably be where I go next.
I'm happy that a lot of the colleges have opened up again in New Orleans. A few of the public schools have opened. On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, of course, some of those communities that were virtually wiped out have not been able to open schools again, but I hope I can visit some of the schools that have reopened.
Q Speaking of New Orleans, I want to ask you to react to two comments that have been made back home while we've been gone. One was by Mayor Nagin, who said on Martin Luther King Day that "God is mad at America." That was his way of explaining the hurricane. He also said that he would like to see New Orleans become, in his words, "chocolate again," which is to say, predominantly African American. I just wondered if you could react to those comments. And then there was one other comment from someone else I wanted to ask you about. Is God mad at America?
MRS. BUSH: I don't really think I can speak for God, I'm not really sure. On the other hand, I do know that he wants New Orleans to be rebuilt, he wants people who lived in New Orleans before to come back, and I do, too. And I know the President does, too. It's going to take a long time, and when I was there on December 12th, one of the council members asked me to tell people if you've moved away to go ahead and try to get a job, to make a life for yourself, because it's going to take a couple of years before everyone can move back, before there will be housing for people. He didn't want people to think he wanted them to stay away forever, this council member. He just wanted people to try to build a life for themselves, always with the intention of moving back when there is housing and when there's a chance for people to come back and rebuild.
And so I understand Mayor Nagin's desire to have New Orleans be like it was. Everyone wants New Orleans to be like it was. We want the music there, we want the great food still, we want that special flavor that New Orleans had that was wild and diverse and was what makes New Orleans so interesting.
Q If you do go there, what will you do?
MRS. BUSH: I'll probably visit schools. That's what I'll do next, because of the schools that are open.
Q The other comment I wanted you to react to was Hillary Clinton saying that the Republicans run the House of Representatives like a plantation. She said it on Martin Luther King Day and it caused a bit of a controversy, and I just wondered what your reaction is to that.
MRS. BUSH: I think it's ridiculous, it's a ridiculous comment. That's what I think. (Laughter.)
Q Fair enough.
Q Can I ask about your meeting with President Obasanjo? Did the subject of Charles Taylor come up at all?
MRS. BUSH: I did not bring up the subject of Charles Taylor. I didn't really think that was my role in a meeting with President Obasanjo. Other members of the government can bring that up.
I know he knows what the United States' thoughts are and policy is concerning Charles Taylor.
Q Thank you.
MRS. BUSH: I think it was a really good trip, very sweet. This morning -- oh, another comment I wanted to make about this morning was in the roundtable at St. Mary's, the father, the husband and father who is HIV-negative and was there to support his wife who is positive, and his children, fortunately are negative; she was able to receive treatment. That's not usual for Africa. Many men would leave their wives and their families -- the men's families would take the children in if that were the case. And I really was moved by his actions; when she started to talk to tell us her story, he held her hand. And he really is a model for other men and loving husbands to stay with his wife under the circumstances, and I was really moved by that.
Q Are we going to see you on more foreign trips by yourself?
MRS. BUSH: I'll do some more trips by myself, I'm sure.
Q How did Barbara enjoy it?
MRS. BUSH: I think Barbara really loved it. Barbara loves Africa, she really does. She had not been to West Africa before -- she went with George and me when we went on the only trip the President has been on to Africa since he's been President, so we've been to Nigeria before, but obviously not Ghana or Liberia. And she would like to come back to all of these places when she has a longer time to be there.
Q To work, or what would she do?
MRS. BUSH: Probably to work again or to do something like that or just to travel. She really loves to travel. She's had the chance to travel in a lot of African countries.
Q What struck her and you most about all you've seen these last four days? Was it the AIDS patients?
MRS. BUSH: Sure, of course, that's part of it. But the girls' education. I don't know if you realized it, the dancers at the model school where we were today were all dressed in each of the tribes that make up Nigeria, and each pair of dancers represented a certain tribe. And the dance was a unity dance, a dance for them to all be together. I don't know if you could hear the little girl who talked when she talked about no more slumber, no more sleep, we have to wake up United States, Africa, Nigeria and educate the girl-child, she said. I don't know if you heard her say that. And then we had, of course, other -- the little girl who said the poem had the same message about girls need to be educated, too.
Q Any tweaks in the policy, the U.S. aid policy that you would like to suggest -- what you've learned --
MRS. BUSH: I'm very, very proud of our policy. There's a lot of money being funded to Africa, to all of the PEPFAR countries -- not all of them are African; Haiti is one of them. And it's a lot of money. I think it's being spent very effectively, working like we are with governments and NGOs in ways to really reach people, to get out into the rural areas. Part of the problems with treatment for people is that it's very difficult because there's not the infrastructure to get into the bush, for instance, in Africa, to get people on antiretrovirals or to be able to have the follow-up that people need when they're being treated with antiretrovirals. But the U.S. government, through PEPFAR, is trying to solve some of those problems by reaching deep into the communities where there are already NGOs or churches or faith-based groups that can reach people.
And I'm proud of what the United States is doing. I think the American people would be really proud of the way we're reaching to AIDS patients or HIV-positive people around the world, as well as to girls and boys who need education.
Q Do you miss your husband, and have you been in contact with him?
MRS. BUSH: I do miss him, and I haven't called him. The time difference has made it so that when I'm home, he would be asleep, or -- I mean, when I'm back at the hotel, or it would be in the middle of the day and I would think he'd be gone somewhere.
So I haven't talked to him and I do miss him and I'm looking forward to seeing him tonight.
Q Thank you. Appreciate it.