.- First Lady Laura Bush promoted the role of faith-based organizations in combating disease in Africa as she launched an anti-malaria campaign in Zambia on Thursday.
"Religious institutions bring a personal healing touch to the fight against AIDS," Mrs. Bush said, adding that Zambian health caregivers "know very well the healing power of faith."
According to the Associated Press, the First Lady spoke at an event at a community center on the eastern outskirts of Zambia's capital, where she took part in a round-table discussion with local Zambian women and girls who are providing care to family and friends infected with HIV.
Mrs. Bush, along with her daughter, Jenna, arrived in Zambia late Wednesday from Mozambique, where she announced a new $507 million aid package. She will travel Friday to Mali, the last stop in a four-nation tour of African countries that have benefited from U.S. AIDS funding.
The first lady is using her trip to support the role of faith-based organizations in foreign aid efforts. She planned to visit two such efforts in Zambia, where the vast majority of people are churchgoing Christians.
Mark Dybul, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator who accompanied Mrs. Bush on her trip, said 40-50 percent of health care in Africa was provided by faith-based organizations.
Canisius Banda, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said Zambia placed "great importance to the role of faith-based organizations in ... the fight against HIV and AIDS."
But he said such groups were not always supportive of certain aspects of the U.S.-backed prevention message that focuses on abstinence and faithfulness, along with condom use.
"They are weak on condom usage. They seem to have difficulty with that part of the message," he said. "They are very strong on abstinence as well as being faithful."
Critics say the U.S. AIDS relief program shifts emphasis from condoms toward abstinence and fidelity, especially among the young. U.S. officials say they recognize condoms are a key to fighting AIDS, but argue prevention is more effective when targeted at an appropriate audience.
In Zambia, Mrs. Bush told reporters abstinence "is a very important component of the program."
"There are several ways in which we can reach young people," she said. "One of the effective ways is abstinence ... it brings back dignity and self-responsibility to young people."
Faith-based aid groups like World Vision and Catholic Relief Services are partnering with local Zambian groups to distribute 500,000 insecticide-treated bed nets throughout Zambia in a $2.5 million anti-malaria partnership. Half of the money is coming from a coalition of American corporations.