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Liberia Fights Malaria with Feeble Medical System

Africa Malaria Day is being observed Wednesday to bring awareness to the health crisis that the preventable disease, which threatens almost half the world's population, has brought to the continent. In Liberia, where the health system has not recovered from the nation's devastating civil war, malaria kills thousands of children every year. Kari Barber has more from our West Africa bureau in Dakar with additional reporting by Prince Collins in Monrovia.

In Monrovia's John F. Kennedy hospital, a mother holds her crying baby who has been ill for days. She says he is suffering from malaria.

In a crowded patient room, Maire Coleman waits for an appointment. She has trouble speaking as she tells local journalist Prince Collins about her symptoms.

COLLINS: "What happened to you?"

COLEMAN: "Malaria."

COLLINS: "How are you feeling now?"

COLEMAN: "My joints hurting and my back. No appetite."

COLLINS: "And how long have you been suffering from this?"

COLEMAN: "Two weeks now."

Liberia was one of many African countries to sign the Abuja Declaration in 2000, promising to cut malaria deaths by half before 2010.

The country has raised public spending on health, but Dr. Abu Menah says the hospital is severely under-equipped. He says malaria continues to be a major health concern.

"Malaria in Liberia is one of the killer diseases," the doctor noted. "In fact, as far as statistics are concerned, malaria kills over a million pregnant women and [children] under five."

Menah says malaria affects more people than any other illness in Liberia.

"In fact, when you visit the outpatient department in every hospital in Liberia, 80 percent of our patients are malaria patients," Dr. Menah said. " It is very terrible. So it is like, if you see ten patients, eight out these ten patients are patients that have come down with malaria. So that is our main challenge in Liberia."

Liberia's health system is largely propped up by international non-governmental organization as the country continues its slow recovery from decades of conflict that destroyed the country's infrastructure.

International organizations, including U.S. President George Bush's malaria initiative, have committed more than a billion dollars towards the fight against malaria, and a joint Chinese- Liberian malaria research center was launched recently at John F. Kennedy hospital. However, many say more must be done to safeguard the lives of the millions of Africans who are threatened by the disease.