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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
October 18, 2005

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the Project HOPE Gala
Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium
Washington, D.C.

6:48 P.M. EDT

MRS. BUSH: Thank you all. Special thanks to Secretary Rice for leading this effort to build a hospital in Basrah. She really came up with the idea a couple of years ago as National Security Advisor. But she stayed really involved with the project, even as Secretary of State, when she has so many other responsibilities. And we all appreciate your dedication to this project. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Thanks also to Dr. John Howe, who, as the leader of Project HOPE, is involved in efforts to bring healing to parts of the world that desperately need it. Dr. Howe has visited hospitals and patients in Iraq and he's deeply committed to helping the Iraqi people get the medical care that they need.

I want to acknowledge Andrew Natsios of USAID. USAID is the leader of many of our government's efforts to improve the quality of life for people around the world, and USAID is a vital partner in the Basrah Children's Hospital.

I also want to acknowledge all of the members of the diplomatic community who are here with us, especially Ambassador al-Istrabadi, from the Iraqi mission to the United Nations; and Said Ahmad, the interim Chief of Mission at the Iraqi embassy; and Ambassador Kawar and Mrs. Kawar of Jordan. Thank you all very, very much for being with us tonight. (Applause.)

And of course, special thanks to our co-chairs, the co-chairs of tonight's event, Curt Selquist and Ed Ludwig, and to Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld, our emcee. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Thank you to everyone who is involved in this effort. There are a number of people in the audience who work all the time with Project HOPE, and I want to thank you for what you do all the time, and what you're doing especially to build a hospital for the children of Iraq.

This weekend, the Iraqi people took another step on their path to democracy by voting on their constitution. As new hope dawns in Iraq, mothers and fathers have hope for their nation's future, and for their children's future. A newspaper quoted one Iraqi woman who went to the polls on Saturday with her husband and three daughters. And she said, "My daughters were so excited, and I wanted the new generation to see democracy."

Political life is just one facet of Iraqi culture that withered under the dictatorship. The health care system also deteriorated, and the people of Iraq suffered. Infant and child mortality rates doubled in ten years. The prevalence of leukemia has increased in the past decade, and the survival rate is tragically low. The latest medical technology was unavailable to ordinary Iraqis. Only those very close to the government could receive the best treatment, or have the means to leave the country to find it. All of us can only imagine how this must have hurt the parents who had to watch their children suffer needlessly.

Dr. Rice mentioned the recent progress in improving the Iraqi health care system. We all want to see that progress continue, and we want to see it to expand to meet the urgent needs, particularly the specialized needs of critically ill children and the need to train the next generation of doctors and nurses in Iraq.

Currently about half of Iraq's people are children, and children under the age of five account for about 56 percent of cancer cases in the country. Basrah is in southern Iraq, a region that was particularly neglected during Saddam's reign. Today, if a child in Basrah needs treatment for a major illness like cancer, the options are limited. Some go to the King Hussein Medical Center in Amman, Jordan. Project HOPE makes the journey possible for some of those children. A few beds are available in the current hospital in Basrah. The children's ward was built in 1938. The most fortunate parents are able, either through their own means or through charities, to send their children to the United States or to other Western countries. Imagine your child being desperately ill and the best care available to her is halfway around the world.

Of course, every parent would make whatever sacrifice necessary to ensure that his child or her child gets the best care. But what a difference it will make in the life of Iraqi children when they have a modern medical facility right in their own country.

The Basrah Children's Hospital will be a 160,000 square-foot facility containing 94 beds, including 86 pediatric acute care beds and eight oncology beds. The hospital will have a state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit, two operating rooms, two surgical procedure rooms, and an emergency room with a trauma station and 13 general outpatient exam rooms. Doctors and patients will have access to new technology that's not currently available in Basrah, including a linear accelerator for radiation therapy and modern CAT scan equipment. The hospital will also have four bedrooms for mothers to stay in as they stay there with their children, an auditorium, a classroom, a physician's library, a study room, resident offices, and a residence building for students.

The hospital will help the Iraqi people meet the health care needs of generations of children by training doctors and nurses in critical care pediatric medicine. The future Chief Nurse at the Basrah Children's Hospital is here tonight. Sukaina Motor is in the United States for training at some of our top facilities. Can anyone see where Sukaina is? Sukaina, can you stand for us? (Applause.) Sukaina is training at some of our hospitals, including St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, the University of Pennsylvania, Mass General, and the Children's National Medical Center here in Washington. After seeing the level of technology available at Mass General, Sukaina said it's hard to appreciate the gap between what is currently available in Iraq and what will be available when the new hospital is built.

Other staff members of the future hospital, chosen by local health authorities in Basrah, have been training in the United States, including the doctor who will be in charge of the hospital and the hospital's lead surgeon.

Iraq's medical professionals have endured hardship and tragedy in their careers. They've lived through personal trauma, at times risking their lives to continue to provide care for patients. The hope of these doctors and nurses is only matched by the hope of mothers and fathers who will soon have a near place to their home where children can receive care and get well.

All of you are helping to make this project possible, and you have my deepest gratitude. The partnership includes a commitment from the federal government. The Congress approved $50 million to construct the children's hospital in Basrah. That alone is three times the amount spent on Iraq's entire health care system in 2002. And I'm so pleased about our partnership with Project HOPE, which has experience in providing high quality medical service around the world.

Since its founding in 1958, Project HOPE has trained more than two million health care workers in more than 80 countries. From China, to Poland, to Africa, Project HOPE has trained physicians who help people of every age return to good health. Project HOPE also provided care in the aftermath of the tsunami, as Dr. Rosenfeld told us, and worked in our country to provide urgent care after Hurricane Katrina.

Everyone involved in the establishment of the Basrah Children's Hospital can be proud. Iraqi parents and children are hopeful for a bright future. Every country's success depends upon the health and well-being of its children. And by working together, we can help future generations of Iraqi children grow up strong and healthy.

I thank each and every one of you for your generosity, your compassion, and your belief in a good future for the Iraqi people. Thank you all very, very much, and God bless you. (Applause.)

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