February 18, 2008

Bush Launches Malaria Program in Africa

On a visit to Tanzania today, President Bush took part in a new international effort to prevent malaria in children of the east African nation. The visit is part of the president's six-day trip through five African nations.

In Tanzania, the president handed out bed nets and embraced children during a tour of Meru District Hospital in the rural northern part of the country.

"It is unacceptable to people here in Africa, who see their families devastated and economies crippled. It is unacceptable to people in the United States, who believe every human life has value," the president said, referring to the effect malaria has had on Tanzania's population.

Malaria kills 100,000 people a year in Tanzania alone.  Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst affected area in the world, with over 80 percent of world's malaria cases happening here.  Worldwide, the disease kills at least 1 million infants and children under five every year.

"The disease keeps sick workers home, schoolyards quiet, communities in   malaria is unacceptable."

While the public mission of his trip is to improve health in the impoverished continent, his ultimate agenda is to preserve his initiatives beyond his presidency and cement humanitarianism as a key part of his legacy.

In 2005, the president initiated a plan to significantly reduce malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.  To date, Congress has put $425 million toward the $1.2 billion, five-year program, which has helped more than 25 million people so far.

"The power to save lives comes with the moral obligation to use it," Bush said of the U.S. commitment.

In Arusha, an area of Africa known for its safaris, Bush announced that the U.S. and Tanzania, with backing from the World Bank and The Global Fund, will distribute 5.2 million free bed nets in Tanzania over the next six months, enough for every child between ages one and five in Tanzania.

The Global Fund is a public-private partnership that has committed millions of dollars to battle AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 136 countries.

With stunning Mount Kilimanjaro as a backdrop, Bush landed here and was greeted by Maasai dancers dressed in purple robes with white discs around their necks.  Although he skipped the dancing, he joined the dancers in their line and enjoyed the festivities.   

The U.S. drive to spend money on the health of Africans, including a much larger effort on HIV/AIDS, is appreciated here, and the president is very popular for the help his administration has given the region in fighting diseases.   As the presidential motorcade proceeded from the airport to the hospital, it passed through several villages where thousands of locals lined the road. At one point, flowers had even been placed in the street before the motorcade.  

In every part of the hospital he visited, women impulsively embraced the president.  After making a brief impromptu speech, the president and first lady Laura Bush distributed bed nets treated with insecticide to women waiting quietly on benches.  He then visited with pregnant women receiving vouchers for bed nets and children waiting to be diagnosed and treated for malaria.   

Bush reinforced the good his malaria program is doing with a visit to a huge bed net factory that provides jobs to locals.   While there, he visited with workers on a huge warehouse floor, where machines turn insecticide-soaked pellets into yarn that is used to weave nets that are inspected and folded.  

Bales of completed nets with tags saying "USAID, From the American People, President's Malaria Initiative" were displayed prominently along the factory's walkways. However, the vast majority of the bales had UNICEF labels.

While Bush visited the hospital and textile factory, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was dispatched to Kenya to assist in breaking deadlocked peace talks in the wake of a disputed presidential election that led has led to violence and unrest in the country.

In a recent Pew Research Center report, African countries held more favorable views of the United States than any others in the world.  As president, Bush represents the face of the United States here, and was overwhelmed with praise and affection throughout his visit.  It was a stark contrast to the current sentiment within his own country where his approval ratings stand at a mere 30 percent.


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