White House treats malaria as a global ‘human crisis’

The White House — along with many public and private partners — is stepping up efforts in the war against malaria, calling it “a genocide” on Africans.

The disease kills about 1 million people each year, mostly African children.

“When you look at the number of people who have died, it’s a genocide,” said R. Timothy Ziemer, coordinator of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). “One million people are going to die, knowingly. That’s a human crisis, and we’ve got to respond.”

Malaria, which is spread by the female Anopheles mosquito, was essentially eliminated from the United States by the 1950s, but it is still devastating parts of the world. It is the leading cause of death for children younger than 5 in sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2005, President Bush committed $1.2 billion over five years to prevent and treat the disease in 15 of the hardest-hit African countries, with the goal of reducing malaria deaths there by 50 percent. The program uses government money but harnesses funding and manpower from partners as well.

Those private businesses and groups — such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Global Health Council, the U.N. Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign, the World Health Organization and the World Bank — are trying to raise public awareness about the disease, which can be treated with proper drugs and largely prevented by spraying insecticides onto walls and sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets.

In December, Mr. Bush held the first White House Summit on Malaria, where he brought together all the groups to come up with a strategy to fight the disease. On April 25, the United States marked the first Malaria Awareness Day — a day already acknowledged each year by African countries.

First lady Laura Bush visited Africa last month to talk about the efforts to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

“Defeating this epidemic is an urgent calling, especially because malaria is preventable and treatable,” Mrs. Bush said June 27 at the Maputo Seminary in Mozambique, where she announced a $2 million PMI grant to a group of 10 national faith leaders.

Building momentum

Although many groups have toiled for years to eradicate the disease, the momentum has grown, advocates said.

“There’s been a sea change on this issue that has lain dormant,” said Kathy Bushkin Calvin, executive vice president of the U.N. Foundation. She said the changes are a result in part of technological advances that have led to more effective indoor sprays, longer-lasting and less-costly bed nets and effective drugs. Mrs. Bushkin Calvin also credited retooled malaria efforts at WHO and stepped-up U.S. involvement.

“You put this all together, and you’ve got some real momentum,” she said.

Thomas Sorenson, who works for Vestergaard-Frandsen — an international company that manufactures bed nets — agreed that efforts to combat malaria have increased.

“When these big waves start, you’ve got a lot of [little] ones following,” Mr. Sorenson said.

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