Bush makes AIDS plea in rare DC visit

Former President George W. Bush used a rare visit to Washington on Tuesday to press African leaders to do more to stop HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Bush, speaking at an African Leaders Summit event in Washington attended by the spouses of many of the continent’s leaders, said too many people in Africa are dying because they don’t seek treatment for diseases.

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“People die of stigma, there's too many people not being treated because of false rumors,” Bush said during the event.

Bush made fighting AIDS in Africa a major part of his presidency. His administration sent more than $15 billion to African countries to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. It’s an issue in which the polarizing president has received bipartisan applause.

Bush has generally stayed out of the spotlight since leaving the White House, but took part in the three-day conference in Washington intended to enhance relations between political and business leaders in the United States and Africa.

Misinformation about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is a problem in fighting the spread of the disease.

Homosexuality is a crime in most African countries, and a Ugandan court recently overturned a law that would have carried life-imprisonment for homosexual acts. The UNAIDS agency praised the ruling and said such laws threaten to make the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa worse. 

“Criminalization of LGBTI people puts entire communities at risk. It keeps those in need of prevention and treatment services out of reach of life-saving interventions,” the agency said.

The former president catered his message to the women attending the “spousal program” at the summit.

He argued fighting misinformation would lower the number of AIDS casualties and improve Africa's societies.

“One of the best ways to help children is to help their mothers live to raise them,” Bush said of the need to fight AIDS.

He also told the political spouses that such work would be good for their husbands.

“If you’re worried about your husband’s political future — taking care of women is good politics,” he said.

He praised his wife, former first lady Laura Bush, who spoke earlier Tuesday with first lady Michelle Obama.

“There are a few men in the audience whose wives are more important and popular than they are — and I’m one of them,” Bush said. “I love you, baby.”

Ferdous Al-Faruque contributed to this post, which was updated at 12:59 p.m.