Is the Bush Institute's Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Program Too Little Too Late?

Categories: Politics

Laura_Bush_MAIN_1.jpg
Photo by Shealah Craighead, The Bush Institute

At right you see former First Lady Laura Bush, cheerily painting a door at a health clinic in Zambia. The photo was taken earlier this month by a staffer at the Bush Institute, part of the press surrounding the former first couple's visit to Africa earlier this month. It's also included in today's Dallas Morning News, part of a glowing profile of Laura Bush.

"In an exclusive interview at her Preston Hollow home," the DMN's Tom Benning tells us, Bush "reflected on the progress in Africa and how those gains can be advanced by groups setting aside partisan differences."

The progress she's talking about is fighting breast and cervical cancer in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in HIV-positive women, who are particularly prone to cervical infection. Bush is the face of a new program called Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, spearheaded by the Bush Institute in a partnership with the Komen Foundation, the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)

What the DMN's hyper-exclusive interview didn't quite manage to touch on, though, is the role Bush Administration policies played in spreading HIV and AIDS throughout Africa and the rest of the developing world. We have no idea how that one didn't come up.

We're talking about the global gag rule, also known as the "Mexico City policy," which Ronald Regan first instituted in 1984 and which every Republican president has enforced since then (and every Democratic president has repealed). The gag order worked like this: If you were a health clinic or organization in a foreign country receiving U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) money, you couldn't provide abortions. Or counsel your patients about them. Or even mention the word "abortion." Ever. (Sound familiar?)

The problem with the gag rule is that USAID money had been the key source of funding for an awful lot of foreign family-planning clinics. If those clinics signed the gag, they lost their ability to provide the care and counseling they saw fit; if they didn't sign it, they couldn't receive any funding, even for non-abortion things like cervical cancer screenings, prenatal care and contraception.

Then President George W. Bush reimposed the gag rule in 2001, with provisions to make it even stricter and with a new emphasis on abstinence-only counseling. And then, very quickly, condoms started not making their way to Africa.

Investigators led by the nonprofit Population Action International found in 2003 that USAID "had to cut off shipments of contraceptives, already in short supply, to 16 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East," according to the Guttmacher institute. A Planned Parenthood Association in Lesotho, for example, had received nearly 500,000 condoms from USAID during the Clinton years. With the gag rule back in place, Lesotho couldn't partner with Planned Parenthood, and USAID ended the shipments to the country entirely.

At that time, one in four women in Lesotho were infected with HIV.

In Uganda, health clinics also suddenly faced a dire condom shortage. Stephen Lewis, a special envoy for AIDS in Africa, told another researcher: "There is no question in my mind that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven and exacerbated... by the extreme policies that the administration in the United States is now pursuing in the emphasis on abstinence."

According to Guttmacher, the pattern repeated itself across the developing world, where many women lost access to family planning and reproductive health services "from trusted local providers, putting many of them at risk of unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion." Not to mention an increased risk of HIV infection and cervical cancer, both of which are very preventable with the right tools (condoms, yearly screenings, education).

Now, the Bushes are back in Africa, painting doors in Zambia and Botswana, and Laura Bush is touting the life-saving effects of new HIV drugs (in what is obviously a giant coincidence, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is sponsored by both Merck and GlaxoSmithKline). At the health center they visited in Zambia, the DMN says: "... about 40 percent of those women were found to be HIV-positive and are receiving drugs. About 20 percent had cervical lesions, which can often be treated on-site with ingredients as cheap and basic as household vinegar and liquid nitrogen."

"Health should be nonpartisan," Bush told the paper. "We all want good health for people. I don't think it serves anyone very well to have it be political."

What an amazing realization. It's only about a decade too late.


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13 comments
JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

That's not Laura Bush in the photo. I think it may be Lee Cullum.

kcripp
kcripp

I agree with your concerns about that lack of support for women's health during the Bush administration but I don't understand why you are recklessly telling only half the story.  W. and Laura Bush did not just now come to the realization that combating HIV/AIDS in Africa is a very important humanitarian issue.  The Bush Administration actually tripled the amount of humanitarian aid for Africa.  $15 billion went directly to combat AIDS.  Now it can be debated whether or not that $15 billion was used effectively. However, to insinuate that Bush at best ignored the AIDS epidemic and at worst worked against it, is a gross fallacy and poor journalism.  Readers deserve the complete story so that they may develop their own conclusions.

RTGolden
RTGolden

Got any factual numbers to back your position that anti-choicers lack education?  For your edification, Pro-choice is not always different than Pro-life.  I am both.  I detest and abhor abortion, but support the right of self-determination. No I haven't adopted any children, yes I support children's charities.  Divorced, and actually current on support and paying more than required. How many children have you adopted?  How many children's charities do you support?  Are you willing to answer your own questions, or are you simply gather data to support your preconceptions?

James the P3
James the P3

No--I think she was trying to make a much more round-about argument.  Something along the lines that if Planned Parenthood couldn't talk abortion they . . . wouldn't distribute condoms?   I don't know.  I didn't really understand the argument, either because it was nonsensical or because it was just poorly made.  But if that's the argument, then it speaks more to Planned Parenthood's priorities than anything about Bush or the Republicans.

Bane
Bane

And once again, another piece written by Anna FAILS!!!

Zizi JeanMer
Zizi JeanMer

W is now in his "clear my conscience" mode.

Phil
Phil

This is truly nonsense by someone who doesn't know beans about the realities of health care in Africa.  There are not a whole lot of places that perform abortions in Africa because there is such a severe shortage of health care providers and medical supplies that abortions are simply not on the agenda.  We are talking about a continent where a health clinic may have "health provider" who has an elementary school education and a "hospital" may have ONE doctor -- may have.  Half the healthcare in Afrca is provided by mission hospitals and other religious institutions, and they are not going around pushing or performing anything but emergency abortions to save the life of the mother.  There are many places in Africa where the health clinic is lucky to have the most basic medical supplies.  In places like Malawi, for instance, the government's per capita revenue is only aboutu $80 per capita and out of that $80 they have to provide for schools, roads, health care, police, tax collection, etc.  Health care gets abotu $7 per capita each year.  Countries that spend $7 per capita per year are not spending that money on abortions.  They can barely afford aspirin.

Rico
Rico

I assume they mean that an HIV positive foetus who is not aborted becomes one more AIDS infected citizen.

Rico
Rico

...or it just shows that one Bush policy helped Africa (a lot) and another hurt it.  Concluding that, of course, requires thinking about the matter for more than 2 seconds.

Jay
Jay

Understood. Blog posting often fails to convey context. Sarcasm is especially difficult to spot. 

Albert
Albert

Jay, do you recall how Bush's approval rating slipped? Do you think that the great majority of the country suddenly turned liberal, or did the polls reflect the view of conservatives? I wont bother picking apart your list, but I'll put it this way, Obama could double down on anything, and he's still the most incompetent, unprepared, unsuited and dangerous president I've seen in my lifetime. My comment was sarcasm.

TrayvonasaurusRexxx
TrayvonasaurusRexxx

Why do you spell "Taliban Republicans" like "Tal-i-ban Repul-li-cans" every time? Exactly what point are you trying to make by writing it like that? I'm not a republican so I really don't give a shit, I'm just trying to figure out if you have some reason for writing it with arbitrary dashes in the words every time you write it. Are you trying to write in redneck dialect and failing?

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