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First Lady Visits Haitian AIDS Clinic

Mrs. Laura Bush speaks with a clinic patient during her visit at the PEPFAR-supported GHESKIO HIV/AIDS Center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. White House photo by Shealah Craighead

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- U.S. first lady Laura Bush toured Haiti's capital on Thursday to promote funding for AIDS patients and support education in the impoverished Caribbean country.

Bush spoke with three HIV-positive young adults during a morning visit to GHESKIO, a prominent AIDS clinic in the run-down center of Port-au-Prince. She called on Congress to keep the President Bush's international AIDS relief plan from expiring this year.

"It's a nice chance to be with you all today to see the results of what you all are dealt and how it's helping people," Bush told the clinic's director and staff during her one-day visit.

A Senate committee approved legislation Thursday that would triple funding to $50 billion for the five-year program, which expires this year, to fight AIDS and other diseases in Africa and in nations like Haiti and Guyana. The bill now moves to the full Senate.

The first lady also looked at prepared tables of fruit, dry goods and other products bought and sold by HIV-positive women with help of small loans from the center, which was founded at the dawn of the AIDS crisis in 1982 and now serves more than 140,000 patients annually.

The center receives international funding and has played a central role in fighting Haiti's once-soaring AIDS infection rate, which is now around 3.8 percent, according to the United Nations.

HIV patient Mariana Pierre, 20, read a poem she wrote in Haitian Creole for the first lady's visit.

"We shall learn from our mistakes, death will befriend us. For what good is it to live in ignorance?" Pierre said as Bush listened to a translator and smiled.

Bush barely set foot outside a car or building during the tightly managed trip. But the motorcade showcased Haiti's improving security under a U.N. peacekeeping force, passing through the chaotic La Saline market and near the oceanside Cite Soleil slum, which was largely controlled by gangs until last year.

She also visited an education center funded by the U.S. Agency for International Aid and Development where officials are trying to reduce a nearly 50 percent national illiteracy rate.

It was the first time since Hillary Clinton arrived in 1998 that a U.S. first lady has visited Haiti.

Bush traveled later Thursday to Mexico City where she met with Mexican first lady Margarita Zavala and female political and business leaders.

She was scheduled to attend Friday's inauguration of the U.S.-Mexico Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research. (Washington Post 3/14/08)

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