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African Leaders Fight Malaria

African leaders have begun an ambitious program to eliminate nearly all malaria deaths in Africa over the next six years. Malaria is one of the biggest killers of African children.

The African Leaders Malaria Alliance is meant to streamline the procurement and distribution of control and treatment methods while keeping the disease high on the international development agenda.

The goal is to provide universal access to malaria control methods to all at-risk Africans by the end of next year in hopes of eliminating all preventable malaria deaths by 2015.

Launched on the sidelines of this week's annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the leaders' alliance was initiated by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. "We are now creating a critical forum and mechanism for advocacy, action, and follow-up on the implementation of these noble goals. The goals look ambitious, but I am confident they are achievable," he said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last year joined the African Union in working toward those goals. Ray Chambers is the Secretary General's Special Envoy for Malaria. "This is a massive undertaking unlike anything that has ever been done before," he said.

Chambers says there is no chance of achieving those results without the active participation of African heads of state. "In many countries, only half the people who have nets are actually sleeping under them. The leader of each country can encourage the people to sleep under that net each and every night," he said.

Chambers says eliminating malaria deaths in Africa will bring big savings to over-stretched health-care budgets and boost economic growth. Malaria is thought to cost African nations 30 billion dollars a year in lost GDP from health care spending, absenteeism and reduced productivity.

Nearly twenty percent of African women who die in childbirth die from malaria. It accounts for one-quarter of all deaths of children under five.

President Kikwete says the African Leaders Malaria Alliance must address critical issues that remain the responsibilities of each head of state from reminding the international community to increase anti-malaria spending to establishing comprehensive national prevention and therapy policies. "In scaling-up use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and indoor residence spraying, we need to remind ourselves of the importance of maintaining internationally-agreed standards. In our national malaria control programs, due regard must be given to solving the problems of shortage of health workers at all levels and ensuring efficient utilization of available resources for scaling-up interventions," he said.

The production of insecticide-treated mosquito nets has more than tripled over the last five years, now covering more than 40 percent of the at-risk population. More than 300 million Africans are now covered by bed nets. The goal is to cover another 700 million people by the end of next year.