US first lady Laura Bush will meet with Members of Congress today to update them on the progress of the President’s Malaria Initiative, a three year old Bush administration program aimed at reducing deaths in 15 African countries. By 2010, the one-point-two billion dollar program pledges to cut in half the number of deaths due to malaria. It is also encouraging other donor countries, corporations, and aid agencies to help tackle the suffering and complex methods of fighting this conquerable, insect-transmitted affliction. Director Richard Tren of the research and advocacy group Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM) says that Mrs. Bush’s appearance caps off a week of meetings, strategy sessions, and congressional briefings that will culminate in tomorrow’s annual observance of World Malaria Day.
“The president and the first lady have shown great leadership in malaria. They communicate and explain to congressmen that congress’ interest in authorizing and appropriating money for malaria programs saves lives every day and makes an enormous difference, not just to the lives of ordinary men and women in Africa -- and children – but also to economies, improving productivity,” he said.
Tren points out that the most effective way to spur international donors to commit greater resources toward fighting malaria is for the governments of the most stricken countries to prioritize their needs and get out the facts.
“Once the governments of the many African countries start taking the lead, and that’s happening in some key countries like Rwanda, like Zambia – Uganda is showing great leadership – it helps to bring other donors on,” he notes.
The theme of World Malaria Day for 2008 will focus on spraying to safeguard protection across borders. Richard Tren says the example of recent progress made by Mozambique demonstrates how cooperation with two of its Southern African neighbors has helped contribute to malaria’s decline in the region and its spread across borders.
“That was a three-country program between Mozambique, South Africa, and Swaziland. And it demonstrated how important it was for the countries to coordinate their programs where the malaria parasites and mosquitoes don’t respect political borders. And you can have a great malaria program in one country and get re-infections from others, from mosquitoes coming in, and people, more importantly, traveling across borders. So I think it’s right that they focus on important progress that is being made with countries coordinating better, collaborating between themselves, insuring that they do their interventions together so that they don’t undermine. And this is also happening in West Africa, in and around Senegal,” he said.
Tren singles out deterioration in Zimbabwe’s under-funded public health infrastructure as being responsible for threats to other countries. He points to a rise in infections transported by expatriates who have been streaming across borders in recent years due to the country’s political problems and its economic decline. In addition, he says the Diaspora of Zimbabweans resettling in Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa not only burdens the health infrastructures of those countries, but also introduces the parasites inside their borders.