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U.S. aims to be a global leader in malaria fight

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama is committed to making the United States a global leader in ending the nearly 1 million deaths annually from malaria by 2015, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says.

The goal is shared by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the African Union, according to excerpts from Susan Rice’s prepared speech to a malaria summit on Friday made available to The Associated Press.

“Malaria, simply put, is something we can end. And today I am here to say that malaria is a scourge we can end,” she said.

Rice is the keynote speaker at the summit on the eve of the second World Malaria Day that will bring together global leaders in the fight against malaria and African and American faith leaders. They will launch a campaign to mobilize resources to help interfaith institutions in Africa fight malaria more effectively through increased mosquito net distribution and local community education.

On the first World Malaria Day a year ago, the U.N. secretary-general announced a new global initiative to provide mosquito nets and insecticide spraying for everyone at risk of malaria, diagnosis and treatment for those with the disease, and training for community health workers to deal with malaria. He said the initiative would also encourage research into the control, elimination and eradication of malaria.

Ban said the aim of his “bold but achievable vision ... is to put a stop to malaria deaths by ensuring universal coverage by the end of 2010.”

The timetable that Rice gives is five years longer.

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 250 million people get malaria every year, and it kills almost 1 million, the vast majority young children. Many drugs have lost their effectiveness against the parasite, and there is no vaccine, although advanced testing of an experimental candidate that promises partial protection is under way.

Rice said there has been “significant progress, and we have the tools to do even more.”

“We now have effective and increasingly affordable drugs to treat malaria and related illnesses,” she said. “We now have reliable ways to prevent malaria, especially bed nets treated with insecticides, indoor spraying, and safe, inexpensive drugs that can be provided to pregnant women.”

But eliminating malaria deaths won’t be easy, she said.

“For about half the world’s population, malaria is still one of the greatest threats to public health — a disease that plunges families into poverty, rattles already shaky public health systems, and steals Africa’s children away from her,” Rice said.

Every day, nearly 3,000 people died of malaria, nearly 90 percent of them children under the age of 5, she said, adding: “That is a human cost that we will never be able to fully tally.”