ARUSHA, Tanzania (AFP) — US President George W. Bush unveiled a new plan Monday to hand out millions of bed-nets to defend every Tanzanian child aged one to five from the mosquitoes that spread deadly malaria.
"This is one of the simplest technologies imaginable, but it's also one of the most effective" to combat malaria, Bush said after touring a maternity ward and meeting with mothers and children at Meru District Hospital.
With his top diplomat on a day-long peace mission in neighbouring Kenya, the US president focused on what he called a "campaign of compassion" in Tanzania, the second leg of a five-country swing through Africa.
Bush toured the hospital, a complex of stucco buildings with corrugated tin roofs outside Tanzania's safari capital Arusha, in the shadow of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, and handed out some bed nets and getting hugs in return.
He highlighted US support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, pointing to campaigns to spray insecticide, treat children and pregnant women, and hand out insecticide-bearing bed-nets.
"Today, I'm pleased to announce new steps in the bed-net campaign. Within the next six months, the United States and Tanzania, in partnership with the World Bank and the Global Fund, will begin distributing 5.2 million free bed-nets," he told reporters.
"This ambitious nationwide program will provide enough nets to protect every child between the ages of one and five in Tanzania," said Bush."
The US president has used his visit -- which began in Benin on Saturday, and will take him to Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia before he heads back to Washington -- to highlight US-African cooperation to battle disease and poverty.
Malaria remains the number one cause of death among children under five in Africa. The UN World Health Organisation estimates that 1.2 million people die of the disease every year, mostly children.
According to the Roll Back Malaria campaign, using the insecticide-treated net cuts the chance of catching malaria in half. The disease causes headaches, high fevers, vomiting and other symptoms.
"The suffering caused by malaria is needless, and every death caused by malaria is unacceptable," Bush said at the hospital here, before going to visit the factory that makes the nets, A to Z Textile Mills.
Called the Nguvu ya Ajabu (Magic Power) Olyset net, the innovation was launched in 2004 in the Arusha factory which is now churning out 10 million of these bug barriers every year, sold throughout 25 African countries.
Made from a synthetic weave that is impregnated with the insecticide permethrin, the net is the result of a partnership between the Tanzanian factory and the Japanese chemical giant Sumitomo Chemicals.
A to Z is the only factory in Africa to produce the life-saving net, which repels mosquitos carrying the parasite that causes the disease. The insecticide stays potent for five years.
Bush also highlighted the anti-malaria initiative he launched in 2005, a five-year, 1.2-billion-dollar (820-million-euro) program, in partnership with 15 African countries, to cut deaths from the disease in half.
And he was also watching US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Kenya, meant to convince leaders there to end the country's bloody political crisis with a power-sharing agreement drafted by former UN chief Kofi Annan.
The president, deeply unpopular at home and abroad, has relished the adoring crowds he has drawn in Africa.
"We like very much the president of America. I've got two sponsors from Nebraska. They pay for half of my studies. When I finish my studies, I want to go there", said Sophia, a 20-year-old Arusha resident who wants to become an accountant.
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