U.S. first lady Laura Bush meets sisters at St Mary's hospital in Abuja
Jason Reed  /  Reuters
U.S. first lady Laura Bush meets Catholic sisters during her visit to St Mary's hospital in Abuja, Nigeria on Wednesday. She announced a pledge of U.S. funding that will allow the hospital provide antiretroviral drugs free of charge to patients for the first time. 
updated 1/18/2006 10:01:54 AM ET 2006-01-18T15:01:54

First lady Laura Bush announced Wednesday that Nigeria will receive $163 million in U.S. assistance to fight AIDS as she heard a young woman at a small AIDS clinic tell how medications helped her avoid death from the disease.

Mrs. Bush, standing next to four cartons of anti-retroviral drugs, visited with health workers and AIDS patients at St. Mary’s Hospital on the dusty outskirts of the capital. The four boxes — enough to treat 500 people — is the first U.S.-backed shipment of the drugs St. Mary’s has received through President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Mrs. Bush sat under shade tree to hear the stories of clinic workers and patients, including Toyin Yomi, 26, whose frail body was clad in a colorful navy dress and shawl. She tested positive for HIV in 1999 and started her first round of drug treatment in 2003.

Mrs. Bush nodded as the woman, who spoke in a near whisper, told her tragic, yet uplifting story. When stocks of the drug Yomi was taking were depleted, she nearly died three times. Yomi, who has been hospitalized a number of times, started a second round of drugs in April 2004 and is back on her feet.

“It’s really important for people who are HIV positive to reach out to let other people know that they can be tested, they can find out they can still live a life — a positive life, a happy life,” Mrs. Bush said. “That’s the message we need to get out around the world.”

An estimated 3.6 million Nigerians are infected with HIV, according to the State Department. About 310,000 people die each year in Nigeria, which has one-fifth of Africa’s population.

Nigeria is one of the largest recipients of funds from PEPFAR, but there is serious concern that testing, monitoring and health care systems are not adequate to reach people at high risk of contracting the disease. People in their teens and 20s account for most HIV infections.

First lady's West African tour
On the final day of her four-day swing through West Africa, Mrs. Bush met with Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo at his residence, and visited a public school where young people, dressed to represent different ethic groups in the nation, performed a welcome dance for her in a courtyard.

Walking past a sign that said “Remember that the girl child has a right to basic education,” Mrs. Bush spoke with students who receive U.S.-backed scholarships that help pay for school fees, uniforms and supplies so they can attend school.

Her daughter, Barbara, at her side, Mrs. Bush advised the students, including one who said she dreamed of being a lawyer, to read many different types of books to prepare themselves for future education.

Before heading back to Washington, Mrs. Bush spoke at the National Center for Women’s Development, the same place where President Clinton spoke about fighting AIDS in 2000.

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