By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 14, 2006 1:58 PM
President Bush and first lady Laura Bush hosted a summit on malaria today and added eight more African countries to a White House initiative aimed at taming the mosquito-borne disease that still claims more than a million lives a year, mostly young children in sub-Saharan Africa.
The administration's program, known as the President's Malaria Initiative, is a $1.2 billion, five-year plan whose goal is to raise awareness of malaria, a preventable, treatable, but often fatal disease spread by mosquito bites.
The president's plan, announced in June 2005, seeks to energize a grass-roots effort among voluntary, nonprofit organizations and faith-based groups in an effort to cut Africa's death rate from malaria in half within five years, thus saving millions of lives in 15 of the hardest-hit African countries.
The countries added to the initiative today were Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali and Zambia, the White House announced. Angola, Tanzania and Uganda were the first three countries in the program, followed by Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda and Senegal.
"Last year about a million Africans died of malaria," said Bush, who declared that malaria is defeatable. "The vast majority were children under five. Their lives ended by nothing more than a mosquito bite," he said at the summit held at the National Geographic Society in downtown Washington.
Bush noted that malaria was wiped out in the United States decades ago. "It is possible to eliminate malaria," he said. "Allowing Africa to continue on that path is just simply unacceptable." He said that although defeating malaria would be challenging, "it doesn't require a miracle."
"We know exactly what it takes to prevent and treat the disease," he said. "The only question is whether we have the will to act."
Bush said experts had identified four key steps to combat malaria in Africa: distributing insecticide-treated bed nets; expanding indoor insecticide spraying; providing anti-malarial medicine to pregnant women and delivering cutting-edge drugs to infected people.
Africa accounts for about 90 percent of worldwide malaria deaths and 75 percent of the victims are children.
The parasitic disease typically causes high fevers, chills, and flu-like symptoms. Death can result from resulting anemia, kidney failure or brain disease.
Laura Bush urged Americans to donate $10 each to buy the insecticide-treated bed nets to control mosquitoes in the affected countries.
"Only a fraction of African homes have the bed nets they need," the first lady said. "But any individual who can raise $10 can buy a net, and save a life."
"We're here because eradicating malaria is an urgent calling," she added.
Just before the summit, President Bush met with Bon Yayi, the president of Benin, and told him the United States will commit time, resources and manpower to help Africa in its fight against malaria, but that his government needed to do its part in educating citizens on prevention.
"We cannot succeed, however, unless there is an administration that is willing and capable to do the hard work necessary to educate people and spread nets and insecticides necessary to deal with a disease that can be defeated," Bush said to the Benin leader.
The White House summit brought together experts on the subject. Among those taking part was Melinda Gates, co-chairwoman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, and several U.S. government and United Nations' officials involved in the fight against malaria.
"By bringing together such a wide variety of people, the summit is sending a clear message that we are determined to defeat malaria," the president said.
"In this new century, there is a great divide between those who place no value on human life and rejoice in the suffering of others, and those who believe that every life has matchless value and answer suffering with compassion and kindness. The contrast is vivid, and the position of America is clear: We will lead the case of freedom, justice and hope, because both our value and our interests demand it."