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Bush plays healer-in-chief in rural Tanzania

United States President George Bush handed out hugs and bed nets to battle malaria in Tanzania’s rural north on Monday, saying the US is part of an international effort to provide enough mosquito netting to protect every child under five in the East African nation.

”The disease keeps sick workers home, school yards quiet, communities in mourning,” Bush said in an open-air pavilion at Meru District Hospital. ”The suffering caused by malaria is needless and every death caused by malaria is unacceptable.

”It is unacceptable to people here in Africa, who see their families devastated and economies crippled. It is unacceptable to people in the United States, who believe every human life has value, and that the power to save lives comes with the moral obligation to use it.”

Bush is on a six-day trek through five African nations. The public mission of his travels is to improve health on an impoverished continent. The underlying one is to preserve his initiatives beyond his presidency and cement humanitarianism as a key part of his legacy.

Bush launched a plan in 2005 to dramatically reduce malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, the worst-affected region in the world. More than 80% of malaria cases happen here. The disease kills at least one million infants and children under five every year. The US Congress so far has put $425-million toward Bush’s $1,2-billion, five-year programme, which has helped more than 25-million people.

In Tanzania alone, malaria kills roughly 100 000 people a year. Bush said the tremendous loss would not be tolerated.

Bed nets

In the northern highlands of Arusha, an area known as a cradle of African safari adventure, Bush announced that the US and Tanzania — in partnership with the World Bank and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria — plan to distribute 5,2-million free bed nets in Tanzania in six months. That’s enough, he said, to provide a net for every child between ages one and five in Tanzania.

The Global Fund is a public-private partnership that has committed millions to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria in 136 countries.

Bush landed here, in sight of the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro, and was greeted by Masai women dancers who wore purple robes and white discs around their necks. The president joined their line and enjoyed himself, but held off on dancing.

As Bush’s motorcade made the long drive from the airport to the hospital, it passed through several villages where hundreds of locals lined the road. At one point, flowers had been strewn in the street before his car.

In the hospital, women spontaneously hugged the president, who is popular here for the help his administration is providing to battle disease. He visited pregnant women receiving vouchers for bed nets and children waiting to be diagnosed and treated for malaria. He shook hands as mothers quieted fussy children.

”Women can use these vouchers to buy bed nets at local shops at a huge discount,” he said. ”So far, an estimated five million vouchers have been distributed through these programmes.”


After his remarks, the president and his wife, First Lady Laura Bush, distributed several US-funded bed nets treated with insecticide to women waiting quietly on benches. He said Tanzanians also were involved in campaigns to curb deaths from the disease.

”In one area, residents launched a campaign called ‘Kataa Malaria’,” Bush said. ”For those who don’t speak Swahili, it means ‘Reject Malaria’. As part of the campaign, workers went door-to-door to teach people how to use bed nets. They launched TV and radio ads. They spoke in mosques about malaria prevention and treatment.”

Tanzania is one of 15 countries that benefit through the distribution of live-saving medicines, insecticide spraying and bed nets that keep mosquitoes away at night. Those bed nets, which cost about $10 each, have long-lasting insecticide.

Bush toured a huge bed-net factory in Tanzania, visiting workers on the green warehouse floor where machines turn insecticide-soaked pellets into yarn and weave them into nets that are inspected and folded.

Bales of completed nets with tags saying ”USAID, From the American People, President’s Malaria Initiative” were prominently displayed along walkways. But the vast majority of the bales ready for transport had United Nations Children’s Fund labels.

The US drive to spend money on the health of Africans, including a much larger effort on HIV/Aids, is appreciated here. In a recent Pew Research Centre report, African countries held more favourable views of the US than any others in the world.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meanwhile, went from Tanzania into Kenya to try to help push forward deadlocked peace talks. A disputed presidential election there recently led to a wave of violence. — Sapa-AP

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