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President Bush did more to fight AIDS in Africa and the developing world than any other president in history, including the current occupant of the  White House.  And now, he is going to bring attention to the problem of cervical and breast cancer in the poorest places in the world.  From the Wall Street Journal story:

George W. Bush is making the first major foray of his post presidency into global health, with a partnership to combat cervical and breast cancer in the developing world. Mr. Bush was widely applauded for establishing the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which has spent nearly $32 billion since 2004. It put more than 3.2 million people on AIDS drugs through September 2010, and it funds HIV testing and counseling for nearly 33 million people a year. Now, his George W. Bush Institute is forming a public-private partnership to use the AIDS-relief plan’s huge infrastructure of doctors, nurses, and clinics to expand screening and treatment of women for cervical cancer as well as breast-cancer education.

This is a practical approach. It builds on existing infrastructure and personnel.

The need is great.  Many women in these areas don’t have access to the kinds of screening opportunities to catch these deadly diseases early:
Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer globally in women, and more than 85% of cases are in developing countries, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Women who are HIV-positive face a risk of developing cervical cancer four to five times greater than those who are HIV-negative. That’s because their suppressed immune systems aren’t as able to fight off human papillomavirus, the main cause of cervical cancer. Yet the vast majority of women in sub-Saharan Africa, where the new partnership will focus its efforts, are never screened for the disease. “In the U.S. we don’t start screening for cervical cancer until a woman is 35. In African countries we’re seeing teenagers die from cervical cancer,” said Mark Dybul, who was Mr. Bush’s global AIDS coordinator, is now a global health fellow at the Bush Institute, and was a force behind the creation of the partnership.

Yikes.  We who live in middle class comfort can’t know what it is like to be so close to a natural selection kind of mercilessness.

Credit where it is due: Jimmy Carter created the template for ex presidents tackling serious health issues in the developing world with his magnificent campaign against Guinea Worm Disease—for which he actually deserved the Nobel Prize that he ultimately received for not being Bush.  Bill Clinton followed in those footsteps, and now W.  Good on all three of them.

There is an old Jewish saying originating in the Talmud that holds; when you save a (human) life, you have saved the world.  May their important philanthropic work redound to the benefit of all three former presidents both here, and in whatever comes next.

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