DALLAS — Former President George W. Bush will travel to Africa next month to raise awareness about cervical and breast cancer, an effort he calls a "natural extension" of a program launched during his presidency that helps fight AIDS on the continent.
Bush, former first lady Laura Bush and officials with the George W. Bush Institute are heading to Tanzania, Zambia and Ethiopia from Dec. 1 through Dec. 5, where they'll visit clinics and meet with governmental and health care leaders.
"We believe it's in our nation's interest to deal with disease and set priorities and save lives," Bush told The Associated Press.
In 2003, Bush launched the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, to expand AIDS prevention, treatment and support programs in countries hit hard by the epidemic.
The new program, called the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative, seeks to expand the availability of cervical cancer screening and treatment and breast care education in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
Bush said existing AIDS clinics will be used to screen and treat cervical cancer, which is four to five times more common among those living with HIV than those who don't have the virus. Last year, 3.2 million people received antiretroviral treatments as a result of PEPFAR.
The initiative is a partnership among several organizations, including the Bush Institute, PEPFAR and the United Nations' program on HIV and AIDS. Its goal is to reduce deaths by 25 percent in five years among women screened and treated through the initiative.
"We want to show what works and hopefully others across the continent of Africa will join us,'" Bush said.
Dr. Eric G. Bing, director of global health at the Bush Institute, said it's often more difficult for African women to reveal they have cancer of the reproductive organs than to reveal they have HIV. There are more support groups and treatment available for HIV than cancer, he said.
"There's silence around cancer for many of these communities and in many of these nations. And that's one of the things that we hope to change," Bing said.
Bush moved to Dallas after leaving office in 2009. The George W. Bush Presidential Center, which is set to be completed in 2013 on the campus of Southern Methodist University, will include his presidential library and the already-operating policy institute. Besides global health, the institute focuses on education reform, human freedom and economic growth.
Bush said he and the former first lady will be "pouring our hearts" into the Bush presidential center as it grows.
"This is where we will spend the rest of our lives in the sense of being involved with public policy," Bush said.