Arriving in Malawi for a five-hour visit focused on her anti-bullying campaign as well as education and healthcare Thursday afternoon, First Lady Melania Trump was immediately confronted with American health workers eager to send her a message about her husband's impact on the country.
Holding signs reading, "#MElania TOO" and "Trump's slash to PEPFAR = millions of children's lives in Africa," protesters called on the first lady to use her role to help reverse President Donald Trump's aid cuts, which have drastically affected reproductive, maternal, and HIV/AIDS care throughout Africa, as well as the anti-choice global gag rule he reinstated after taking office.
— Daniel Mababa (@Mababason) October 4, 2018
"Our message is that Melania Trump should return home to persuade President Trump to reverse the serious budget cuts his administration has proposed concerning poor countries," Rachel Pope, a doctor and social justice advocate, told the local Nyasa Times.
"We see firsthand in Malawian hospitals the shocking effect the budget cuts may ultimately have," she added. "Up to 28,000 maternal deaths in this country can be prevented and thousands of women, children, and HIV and AIDS patients could be saved from death if, for example, the PEPFAR [President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief] funding could not be reduced."
Trump has proposed cutting U.S. efforts to fight HIV and AIDS by $800 million, including cuts to PEPFAR. Malawi has one of the highest HIV rates in the world, with about half of new infections affecting young people aged 15 to 17.
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The president's global gag rule, officially known as the Mexico City Policy, also affects reproductive health in Malawi by cutting aid to healthcare clinics that offer abortions and post-abortion care. While abortions are illegal in the country except to save a woman's life, about 70,000 Malawian women obtain abortion care each year, with more than 30,000 suffering injuries from unsafe procedures.
"The provision of safe medical abortions saves lives of many desperate girls and women who have made up their minds to terminate their unwanted pregnancies," Brian Ligomeka of the Center for Solutions Journalism said when the global gag rule was announced in 2017. "The problem is that if such women are not assisted they will end up procuring unsafe abortions which will take most of them to their graves. It is a death sentence for women."
"We want [Melania Trump] to see it that Africans needs international aid particularly on reproductive health which Trump cut, which is affecting women and young girls negatively," Pope told the local Maravi Post.
In addition to calling on Melania Trump to help reinstate life-saving funding to the country's healthcare providers, some greeted the first lady with references to her husband's comments about numerous African and Central American countries, in which he wondered aloud in a meeting with lawmakers why the U.S. allowed people from "shithole countries" to immigrate there.
"Welcome to Malawi," read one sign. "Not a shithole."