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Kenya Launches Fight Against Its Top Child Killer, Malaria

Kenya has launched a campaign against malaria, which remains the country's leading cause of death for children under the age of five.

Malaria kills more than 34,000 Kenyan children under five every year, according to a recent estimate by UNICEF, the United Nations fund for children. About 90 children a day die of the mosquito-borne disease, which is easily treatable.

UNICEF director Ann Veneman is in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi to help launch the country's anti-malaria campaign, part of her tour through Kenya and Uganda this past week.

"It's a persistent problem. You know of course there isn't a vaccine for malaria, per se," she said. "There isn't a way you can just vaccinate kids [against] measles or polio so they won't get the disease. So, one of the best ways to protect children is through bed nets."

The anti-malaria campaign plans to hand out at least 60,000 insecticide-treated mosquito nets to families in northeastern Kenya, where the disease seems most acute. Their goal is to cut in half the number of children who die of malaria.

Also, aid workers plan to distribute anti-malarial drugs to the region's health clinics and hospitals by the end of the year.

About 90 percent of the one million malaria deaths worldwide are in Africa, and 70 percent of them are children under five.

Some health experts say close to $2 billion are needed to effectively combat Africa's malaria problem.

Still, experts say, only about $200 million are spent annually, a significant rise from past years, but still far below what's needed.

Kenyan businesses expect to raise about 30 million Kenyan shillings, or about $400,000, for the campaign. It's one of the first times private businesses in Kenya have chipped in to fight malaria.

Ms. Veneman praised Kenya's business community, which on the program's launch kicked in nearly $80,000.

"This is a wonderful initiative on the part of the private sector in Kenya," she said. "I think the social responsibility on the part of successful companies in developing countries is a growing recognition on the part of the private sector that it is in everybody's best interest to fight some of the very serious problems that people confront in these countries. There's a lot of poverty, a lot of disease and there're ways we can partner together to make a difference, especially on behalf of children."

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki plans to be in Kisumu in western Kenya to kick-start a similar anti-malaria program there.