- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2006

Several groups will mark Africa Malaria Day today by trying to raise awareness in the United States about the disease, which is the leading killer of preschool children and pregnant women in Africa.

On Capitol Hill, for instance, the Global Health Council will sponsor a panel discussion to provide updates on efforts to reduce malaria’s toll on the developing world, including the repeal of taxes on bed nets and service fees.

A grass-roots group known as COUMBA (Conscientious Organizations Using Music to Bring Awareness) Foundation, uses African music and art to draw attention to the malaria problem.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the death toll from malaria in Africa far exceeds that of AIDS, a disease that gets far more publicity.

COUMBA is headed by Coumba Makalou, a Maryland resident who came to the United States from Mali with her parents when she was a baby.

“Malaria is an enormous and devastating problem in Africa. In Mali alone, it kills 10 times more children than AIDS, and it’s so common it is like having a cold,” but far more serious, Miss Makalou said.

COUMBA will hold a malaria briefing today at the State Department and will sponsor a fundraising event tonight at Bohemian Caverns in the District.

At the concert of “Diaspora music” — music of people of African descent — performers will include Cheick Hamala Diabate, who will play what is known as griot music of Mali on a three-string guitarlike instrument called the n’goni. “Mali music is famous around the world; it has over 800 years of tradition,” Miss Makalou said. For more information, visit www.COUMBA.com.

Also appearing will be Janelia, a singer from Nigeria who specializes in a type of music known as Afro beat; Luco Adjassi, a guitar player from Haiti; Jeremy Lodeon from Martinique, who plays fusion music on an instrument known as the zouk; and Proverbs, a Reggae band from the Caribbean.

For each $20 concert ticket sold, Vestergaard Frandsen, a Danish firm with offices in Alexandria, will donate a long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito net, recommended by WHO as a malaria preventive. The company is the world’s largest supplier of such netting.

The company’s president, Thomas Damsbo Sorensen, also is distributing about 30,000 booklets on Africa’s malaria crisis in the Washington metropolitan area.

“He’s doing that so Americans know the disease is killing innocents, and there is no need for it,” Miss Makalou said.

WHO annually reports between 350 million and 500 million acute cases of malaria, resulting in more than 1 million deaths worldwide. About 90 percent of those deaths occur in Africa. Malaria is the leading cause of death in African children younger than 5.

Most contract the disease by being bitten by infected mosquitoes. Symptoms include raging fevers, drenching sweats, and excruciating head and body pain. In advanced cases, the victim suffers uncontrollable seizures.

“And what most people don’t realize is that malaria, which is the biggest killer in Africa, is 100 percent preventable and treatable. There is a pill a person can take that cures malaria in three days,” Miss Makalou said.

The medicine is known as ACT, or artemisin-based combination treatment. WHO recommends ACT to treat malaria now that another medication, Chloroquine, is no longer effective against the parasite. But ACT is far more expensive than other malaria medications and is not affordable for many in rural African villages — those most at risk of becoming infected.

“The disease is still spreading. It’s simply a disease of poverty,” Miss Makalou said.

Africa Malaria Day celebrates a meeting in Nigeria on April 25, 2000, when leaders of 44 African countries signed a declaration committing their nations to cutting Africa’s malaria deaths in half by 2010.

Hundreds of scientists have argued in recent years that malaria control in Africa would be much more effective if it involved the insecticide DDT, or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, which is banned in most nations because of environmental concerns.

DDT essentially eradicated malaria in the United States in the late 1940s, and is economical. Spraying just a few ounces on the walls of a house once a year provides protection. Most mosquitoes will not even fly into a room that has been sprayed with DDT, and those that do usually fly away before feeding. If a mosquito lands on a sprayed wall, it will die quickly.

Resistance to DDT use in Africa is waning. Numerous scientific studies have found that, for humans, DDT is less poisonous than aspirin.

On June 30, the White House pledged $1.2 billion over five years to support malaria prevention and treatment, with a goal to reduce malaria deaths by 50 percent in the African nations where the disease strikes hardest.

The effort began in January in the first three target nations: Angola, Tanzania and Uganda, where more than 300,000 insecticide-treated nets were distributed and residual spraying was provided at 100,000 homes.

Michael Miller, deputy assistant administrator for global health with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said DDT might be tried in Uganda next year.

He USAID already is using DDT in Mozambique, Ethiopia and Zambia.

• Tom Carter and researcher John Sopko contributed to this article.

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