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President Hosts White House Summit on Malaria

President Bush and his wife Laura hosted a White House summit on Malaria Thursday. The conference brought together health ministers from countries affected by malaria, health organizations, international donors and experts -- to discuss the latest and most effective ways to combat the disease. Melinda Smith narrates.

More than a million people die every year from malaria; the majority in Africa -- and most of them children under five years old.

Now a White House initiative -- working together with African governments and international institutions -- will try to cut malaria-related deaths in half over the next few years.

Julie Wallas is a senior malaria adviser for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and for the Presidential Malaria Initiative. "Every 30 seconds we lose an African child to malaria that can be prevented. We really do believe we can cut malaria mortality by 50 percent and we believe the time is now to do that," she said.

The plan includes four fast and effective approaches throughout Africa: the first two target the mosquitoes that spread the disease: massive distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and indoor residential spraying of insecticide.

Added to those efforts: preventive treatment for pregnant women. Last, but not least, the use of artemisinin-based combination therapy, which has proven to be effective against the growing drug resistance of the malaria parasite. None of these methods by themselves can provide a total solution, but in combination they could make a difference.

The mosquito nets represent one of the most important elements. They keep the mosquitoes out, and when treated with insecticide, kill them. The U.S. government, working with many African governments and international organizations, is targeting the most vulnerable segments of the population, children and pregnant women, for the distribution of free or inexpensive bed nets.

Women in the Senegalese town of Thies are being taught how to treat bed nets with insecticides. They are part of a group founded by USAID. As months go by, says Julie Wallas, the women can treat the nets again at home. "The home treatments we do support those activities as well. We target those who already have insecticide-treated nets that need to be retreated and we sponsor re-treatment campaigns."

Experts consider the spraying of insecticide inside homes as very effective. However many factors have to be taken into consideration, including environmental factors, population density, cost and safe application.

"It is definitely not something the family can do it. But spraying in any given area gives protection to all of the population,” says Wallas.

In addition to bed nets, preventive treatment for pregnant women also includes effective medication. "There is treatment, preventive therapy with a drug called SP that can be given to women and is completely safe in pregnancy."

Many of those involved in the effort against malaria are also hoping for the discovery of an effective vaccine. So far, research in this direction has shown only limited results. But scientists say a vaccine against malaria could be a reality within the next few years.