First Lady Laura Bush Tours AIDS Wing of Thai Children’s Hospital
First lady Laura Bush in Bangkok, Thailand, on Tuesday toured the Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health, the first hospital in the developing world to work on preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission, Reuters reports (Nualkhair, Reuters, 10/21). The hospital is part of the country's Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission project, which has received between $1 million and $2 million from the United States over the past decade, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Project officials determined that with antiretroviral therapy and by feeding infants formula instead of breast milk, they could reduce vertical transmission by 9.4% (Tang, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/21). The program has made "great strides" in reducing vertical transmission among the 12,000 HIV-positive women that give birth each year in Thailand, officials said, according to Reuters (Reuters, 10/21). Overall, the number of newly reported HIV cases in the country has dropped from 150,000 in 1990 to 15,000 in 2002, according to Thai Health Ministry Permanent-Secretary Vallop Thaineua (Nation, 10/22). The first lady said, "I am proud of the collaboration between the CDC and the Thai Ministry of Public Health to prevent mother-to-child transmission of AIDS" (Reuters, 10/21). During her one-hour visit, the first lady held a discussion with the hospital's doctors and nurses and children in the program, according to the AP/Journal-Constitution (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/21). In addition, a group of HIV-positive children performed songs and dances for the first lady (Nation, 10/22).
The first lady was accompanying President Bush, who was in Thailand for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Reuters reports (Reuters, 10/21). Several of the children at the hospital held placards spelling out APEC as "AIDS Prevention for Every Child" (Nation, 10/22). UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot has pointed to the APEC summit, which was expected to be attended by 21 regional leaders -- including Bush -- as an opportunity to "press ahead with measures to control AIDS." He said that in order to avoid a crisis in the Asia-Pacific region, leaders there should "brush aside cultural taboos" and increase HIV/AIDS education and prevention efforts (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/15).