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Experts in Africa Welcome New Anti-Malaria Initiative

The Bush administration is launching an ambitious offensive against malaria during a conference at the White House. The news is being welcomed in Africa where malaria kills an estimated one-million people a year. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa Bureau in Johannesburg.

Experts on malaria are praising the new initiative in the battle against the disease.

A specialist on malaria-carrying mosquitoes at South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Maureen Coetzee, says programs to control malaria had been declining in recent decades.

"We have not had this kind of drive for malaria control since the 1960s so it is really good to see it happening and it is certainly not before [its] time," said Coetzee.

Malaria kills more than one million people a year, 90 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa and 75 percent of them small children.

Caused by a parasite carried by certain types of mosquitoes, malaria brings chills, high fevers and flu-like symptoms. It can kill within a few days.

But the disease is easily treatable and can be prevented.

Coetzee says that several countries in southern Africa, South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia and Botswana, have a good record of fighting malaria.

"These countries have for quite a while been funded fairly well in terms of drugs for treatment of malaria, but up until very recently the mosquito side of malaria has been neglected because it is very expensive," explained Coetzee.

Other African countries, she says, have a mixed record. Malaria control programs can collapse quickly due to a loss of funding, lack of political leadership or to conflict.

Experts say distributing mosquito nets treated with insecticide and spraying houses in areas of infestation are good ways to prevent the spread of malaria. But these methods are expensive, have environmental side-effects that must be monitored and are hindered by growing resistance to insecticides by some mosquitoes.

Coetzee says resistance can be avoided by rotating insecticides and developing new insecticides. Unfortunately, she says it costs $100 million to bring a new insecticide to market.

As a result, she says the recent pledges of millions of dollars by wealthy nations, multi-lateral donors and private foundations, if carried out properly, could have a significant impact on malaria in Africa.