ARUSHA, Tanzania (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Monday announced a plan to distribute bed nets to protect 5.2 million Tanzanian children from the deadly disease.
On the third day of his five-nation Africa tour, Bush traveled to this northern Tanzanian city in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro to focus attention on the mosquito-borne disease, which kills at least 1 million infants and children under age 5 in sub-Saharan Africa each year.
“For years malaria has been a health crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease keeps sick workers home, school yards quiet, communities in mourning,” he said during a visit to Meru District Hospital. “The suffering caused by malaria is needless and every death caused by malaria is unacceptable.”
Calling the effort to help fight malaria in Africa a “campaign of compassion”, Bush announced a new plan, in partnership with the World Bank, to distribute 5.2 million insecticide-treated bed nets in Tanzania.
He said the campaign, which will begin within six months, will provide enough nets to protect every child in Tanzania between the ages of 1 and 5.
“This is one of the simplest technologies imaginable, but it’s also one of the most effective,” said Bush, standing before an audience of pregnant women at the hospital, where he handed out a few bed nets as well as hugs and kisses to some of the women waiting at the hospital.
“This is a campaign of compassion,” he said. “This is a practical way to help save lives. It is in the interests of the United States to save lives.”
In June 2005 Bush launched a $1.2 billion, 5-year plan to reduce deaths caused by malaria by 50 percent in 15 African countries.
In addition to providing bed nets to protect against mosquitoes, the malaria initiative supports indoor spraying of insecticide as well as anti-malarial drugs and medicine to treat the disease.
Bush is spending the day in Arusha, visiting a bed net factory and a girls school, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was dispatched to neighboring Kenya to push talks to end the post-election crisis.
Rice is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Kenya since a disputed December 27 vote triggered ethnic clashes that killed 1,000 people.
Bush did not comment on the Kenya crisis on Monday but he told a news conference on Sunday in Dar es Salaam that Rice would be in Kenya to support efforts by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan to mediate a lasting political solution to the crisis.
Unpopular at home and criticized in much of the world during the last year of his presidency, Bush has enjoyed a warm African welcome. In Arusha, he was greeted at the airport by Maasai dancers in traditional garb.
A smiling Bush reveled in the entertainment and for the second day in a row he tried out a few phrases in Swahili, finishing his statement at the hospital by saying “Asante” or “thank you.”
Additional reporting by Deborah Charles
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