ARUSHA, Tanzania (AP) — President Bush handed out hugs and bed nets to battle malaria in Tanzania's rural north on Monday, saying the U.S. 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, schoolyards 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 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.
The president launched a plan in 2005 to dramatically reduce malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, the worst affected region in the world. More than 80 percent of malaria cases happen here; the disease kills at least 1 million infants and children under five every year. Congress so far has put $425 million toward Bush's $1.2 billion, five-year program, which has helped more than 25 million people. In Tanzania alone, malaria kills roughly 100,000 people a year. Bush said the tremendous loss will not be tolerated.
In the northern highlands of Arusha, an area known as a cradle of African safari adventure, Bush announced that the U.S. and Tanzania — in partnership with the World Bank and The Global Fund — 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 Maasai 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 the car of the president, who is popular here for the help his administration is providing to battle disease.
In every part of the hospital he toured, women spontaneously hugged the president. He visited with pregnant women receiving vouchers for bed nets and children waiting to be diagnosed and treated for malaria. "Women can use these vouchers to buy bed nets at local shops at a huge discount," he said. "So far, an estimated 5 million vouchers have been distributed through these programs."
After his remarks, the president and his wife, first lady Laura Bush, distributed several U.S.-funded bed nets treated with insecticide to women waiting quietly on benches. He said Tanzanians also are 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."
While Bush was visiting the hospital, a textile factory where the bed nets are made and a girls school, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was headed north from Tanzania into Kenya to try to help push forward deadlocked peace talks. A disputed presidential election there led to a wave of violence just ahead of Bush's trip.
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, have long-lasting insecticide. The Bushes are touring a plant where nets are woven, hung on hooks for inspection and bagged for shipment.
The U.S. 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 Center report, African countries held more favorable views of the U.S. than any others in the world. And Bush, the face of the U.S. superpower, is showered with praise wherever he goes. It seems a world away from the sentiment at home, where his public approval is at 30 percent.
Associated Press Writer Ben Feller reported from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.