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Laura Bush Visiting East Africa

U.S. first lady Laura Bush, left, speaks while she holds beaded handicrafts made as part of an effort to generate extra income for the participants of Mothers to Mothers-to-Be, a program that helps to prevent more babies from being born with AIDS, in Khayelitsha, near Cape Town, South Africa, Tuesday, July 12, 2005. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
AP
Laura Bush, clearly moved by a jubilant song from a roomful of HIV-positive South African mothers, thanked them on Tuesday for "stripping away the stigma" of the disease and helping prevent more babies from being born with AIDS.

Mrs. Bush's three-nation African trip is aimed at highlighting the battle of her husband President George W. Bush and his administration against AIDS on the world's poorest continent. Tuesday, Mrs. Bush visited a health complex set amid thousands of tin shacks with tar paper roofs held down by tires in the Khayelitsha area outside Cape Town.

About 400 women deliver babies at the facility each month. Though 28 percent of them have the virus that causes AIDS, treatment at the facility has reduced the transmission of the disease to their newborns to less than 5 percent, said Dr. Keith Cloete, health director for the Western Cape province.

Mrs. Bush was at the Khayelitsha Maternity Obstetrics Unit to showcase work done there through The Mothers' Programmes, a private organization that receives some assistance through President George W. Bush's five-year, $15 billion anti-AIDS effort. The program enlists mothers who have kept from transmitting the disease to their own children to mentor new expectant mothers.

A great challenge in the battle against AIDS in Africa is persuading people who are leery of talking about the disease to get tested and to take steps to prevent its spread. The first lady met with a few women who told of becoming HIV-positive and of how their enrollment in the program has changed their lives and others' for the better.

She then went to an outer room, where she was greeted by women singing in their native language of Xhosa a song offering thanks for her visit and for America's help.

"This has been very neat, very impressive," Mrs. Bush told them, choking up a bit as she spoke.

About a half dozen women, one wearing a T-shirt with a huge orange HIV-positive logo, another with a baby strapped to her back with a towel, were weaving colorful beads into lanyards as part of an effort to generate extra income for the mostly unwed and unemployed women.

Mrs. Bush informed them, to much laughter, that her White House staff hangs their security credentials from lanyards made through their program.