Saturday, April 25, is World Malaria Day. For about half the world's current population, malaria is one of the greatest threats to public health. A group of global leaders in the fight against malaria has mobilized in Washington to announce a new campaign as part of the effort to eradicate the disease.

Every year, malaria claims the lives of nearly one million people, most of them children in Africa under the age of five.

As the human toll rises, the economic burden on sub-Saharan Africa drains billions of dollars from countries that could otherwise invest in programs to benefit their people.

A summit of groups fighting malaria is meeting in Washington to bring together African and American faith leaders as part of a United Nations effort to end deaths from the disease by 2015.

The keynote speaker, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, says there are now affordable drugs to treat malaria and related diseases.

Rice says the U.S. supports the goal of providing mosquito nets, insecticide spraying and local community education throughout sub-Saharan Africa by the end of next year. "On World Malaria Day the United States pledges to continue working with this extraordinary coalition with all of you to further spur grass roots, governmental and private sector efforts to defeat this beatable, treatable disease," he said.

The U.N. is focusing on faith-based leaders and organizations to more effectively expand efforts to fight malaria in Africa.

"We have found that the most consistent institution in every village is the church, the mosque. And we asked would the local priest, minister, imam take responsibility for each and every person in their village actually sleeping under a bed net each and every night?," said Ray Chambers, the U.N, Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Malaria.

In African countries with active malaria prevention programs results are encouraging.

For example in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana and Kenya recent health surveys show decreases in the mortality rate from malaria.

Rabbi David Saperstein is among the interfaith leaders meeting in Washington and he pledged to work towards the U.N.'s goal of ending deaths from malaria by 2015. "We come together with confidence knowing that together we, the religious communities of the world, have the capacity to save the lives of millions. We come together to proclaim despite our failures, we are not the prisoners of a bitter and unremitting past, but can and will be the shapers of a better and more hopeful future for all your children. For the sake of our shared humanity, we cannot afford to fail and we will achieve this goal," he said.

Global funding for malaria control has risen significantly in recent years.

In the past few months a coalition of nations and private groups has pledged more than $3 billion dollars to combat the disease.