President Bush in Namibia. Photo by Paul Morse, Bush Center
By Tamar Abrams, Communications Director at Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon . . .
Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon was thrilled to travel with President and Mrs. Bush through Botswana and Namibia this week, and to show them our programs to prevent and treat cervical cancer.
Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, a nonprofit organization, was founded by President Bush and is now an independent public-private partnership that leads coordinated action to save women’s and girls’ lives from cancer in six countries. The former president’s ties to the organization are tight and he is passionate about the need, as he puts it, “to ensure that women who are living well with HIV don’t die of cervical cancer.” His commitment to the issue brought him to the two countries.
In Gaborone, Botswana, the President – along with PRRR partners including PEPFAR, UNAIDS, Jhpiego, the Centers for Disease Control, and dozens of others – visited Tlokweng Clinic where women are screened and treated for early signs of cervical cancer. There he met with women who have successfully been treated and who are now vocal advocates for women in their communities for cervical cancer screening. He talked to medical staff, and Celina Schocken, CEO of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, guided the president through an exhibition of the latest for screening and treating women in low resource settings. Both Celina and Pres. Bush repeated that cervical cancer is preventable through the HPV vaccine which prevents the virus that causes the cancer and through regular screenings and easy treatment. They also commended the Government of Botswana and its many partners and donors who have made addressing cervical cancer a national priority.
Following the clinic visit, the delegation headed to Old Naledi Primary School where it was difficult to ascertain whether the young children were more captivated by the president or he by the children. A group of children ages 10-12 performed a skit emphasizing the importance of the HPV vaccine, which all girls in the country receive routinely before the age of 13, usually through school-based programs.
Before the delegation left Gaborone, they met with ambassadors, representatives from the US Embassy and Department of State, Ministers from various agencies, and other dignitaries. But it is doubtful that his reception from them could have equaled the enthusiasm of crowds lining the motorcade route, schoolchildren eager to have a photo taken with the president, or staff and patients at Tlokweng who peered out at the man who helped address HIV/AIDS across most of Africa.
Arriving on 5 April in Windhoek, Namibia, the former president was met at the airport by a traditional dance troupe comprised of dancers likely too young to remember when he was president. The trip to this country was because Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon has just begun working in Namibia, and the nation’s efforts to combat cervical cancer are just now gaining momentum. While in Windhoek the presidential delegation visited a high school and Windhoek Central Hospital, where he visited a new cervical cancer screen and treat clinic.
The big news in Namibia was the announcement by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon to collaborate on programming to prevent cervical cancer. Because HIV positive women are up to five times more likely to develop cervical cancer, routine screening and treatment are essential and cost less than $25 per woman. The partnership of the two organizations will provide a powerful partnership to save women’s lives.
At Windhoek Central Hospital, members of the medical staff, the Namibian government, the First Lady of Namibia as well as representatives from PEPFAR, the US government, UNAIDS, the Global Fund and Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon vowed to work together to ensure that cervical cancer would no longer end the lives of vital women in Namibia. And there is a beacon of hope in what has been done to combat HIV. As Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS said, “We once thought Namibia would no longer be on the map because of HIV. Last year only one baby was born in this country with HIV.” We can do this…in Botswana and Namibia and everywhere. Women deserve to live long, healthy, productive lives.