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Laura Bush arrives in Mozambique on second leg of Africa tour

U.S. First Lady Laura Bush arrived in Mozambique Wednesday on the second leg of a four-nation Africa tour that focuses on how the United States is helping to fight AIDS and malaria, two of the deadliest diseases on the poverty-stricken continent.

Laura Bush, accompanied by her daughter Jenna, is visiting areas that have benefited from U.S. AIDS funding this week - including the west African nations of Mali and Senegal, where she spent Tuesday, as well as Zambia in southern Africa.

The first lady met Wednesday morning with the staff of the U.S. embassy in Maputo and was then to meet with President Amando Guebuza.

Last month, President George W. Bush called on Congress to authorize an additional US$30 billion (euro22.3 billion) to fight AIDS in Africa, a figure that would double the U.S. commitment to the continent. The current program, which provided US$15 billion (euro11 billion) over five years, expires in September 2008.

The U.S. president's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief has supported treatment for 1.1 million people in 15 countries, he said in calling for the program's renewal.

Southern Africa is hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic, accounting for the vast majority of the 40 million infections and the daily death toll of 8,000. Despite the advances in AIDS treatment taken for granted in rich countries, more than 70 percent of Africans who need it are still waiting.

Mozambique, which was wracked by a civil war lasting from independence in 1976 to 1992, remains one of the world's poorest nations, but the former Portuguese colony, known for its Indian Ocean beaches and islands, has become a model for economic reform.

However, an estimated 1.6 million Mozambicans are HIV-positive, and an estimated 500 people of the 12 million population are becoming infected every day. About 150 people die each day of malaria and the disease causes about 7 deaths per hour in the nation's hospitals.

But hope is emerging because of new political will, more funding from programs President Bush's malaria initiative, better drugs and more powerful anti-mosquito weapons - including the pesticide DDT, long reviled but now rehabilitated by the international health community.

During her stay in Mozambique, Laura Bush is due to visit a site near the Mozal aluminum smelter where authorities want to spray house walls with DDT to ward off mosquitoes, using funds from the U.S. Malaria Initiative that commits US$1.2 billion (euro880 million) over the next five years.

Bishop Dinis Sengulane, head of Mozambique's Rollback Malaria Initiative, said he hoped Mrs. Bush's visit would increase acceptance of spraying, which has contributed to an 88 percent fall in cases in the country.

"If we engage decisively in spraying, we can make a great deal of difference," he said. "We need to follow the examples which really work."

On Tuesday Mrs. Bush handed out mosquito nets and picked vegetables from a garden whose produce is used to supplement the meals of AIDS patients at a hospital in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

"We just eradicated malaria in the United States in about 1950. We know malaria can be eradicated, and so we stand with you as you try to eradicate malaria in Senegal," she said.

Mrs. Bush, a former librarian, is scheduled to visit a pediatric hospital in Maputo as well as deliver a speech at a local seminary. She will also participate in a women's empowerment round-table luncheon.

She leaves Wednesday evening for neighboring Zambia.

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