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Global, Faith Leaders Launch Campaign to Have Malaria On the Run

WASHINGTON – The fight against malaria has picked up momentum and excitement as global and faith leaders have set aside their differences and acknowledged that they can bring an end to the scourge together.

In an unprecedented move on Friday, hundreds of leaders from the public, private, and faith-based sectors launched the "One World Against Malaria" campaign that will mobilize hundreds of millions of dollars in new resources to combat the mosquito-borne illness.

The campaign, launched in time for World Malaria Day on Saturday, has a strong faith-based focus. Many leaders expressed assurances in meeting their goal to end malaria deaths by the year 2015 with help from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faith communities which have already proven to be effective partners.

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"Strong collaboration among governments, donors, international organizations, the private sector, civil society and faith-based organizations has accelerated the progress on malaria," said Ann M. Veneman, executive director of UNICEF, the world's largest global purchaser of insecticide-treated bed nets.

All global leaders attending the campaign launch agreed that in recent years they have achieved measurable successes in preventing and treating malaria, which kills 3,000 children every day.

According to a UNICEF report, released Friday, the number of insecticide-treated nets produced worldwide has more than tripled since 2004, from 30 million to 100 million in 2008. And not even half way into the year, UNICEF has already purchased more nets this year than they have in all of 2008.

More than 40 percent of the at-risk population has received bed nets over the last year. Ray Chambers, special envoy of the U.N. Secretary-General for malaria, is optimistic they will be able to provide universal coverage by the end of 2010.

Through the scaling up of bed nets, an estimated 125,000 malaria deaths were averted in 10 African countries in 2001-2007, and most were averted since 2006.

Chambers noted that in Ethiopia, incidents of malaria and deaths from the disease have decreased by over 50 percent and Zanzibar has seen zero cases of malaria. Hospital beds in Zanzibar island are now completely free, Chambers said.

"We're moving with such great pace and energy," said the special envoy, who co-hosted Friday's event with Edward Scott, founder of Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA).

Rapid progress in the fight against malaria is expected to continue through the new model of interfaith cooperation that was unveiled Friday by CIFA.

The model was pioneered in Nigeria, where Muslims and Christians – who make up most of the country's population – began working together in the last few years. Expressing solidarity and unity, Nigeria's prominent religious leaders showcased their collaboration and reaffirmed their commitment to ending malaria deaths.

"There's no Christian or Muslim disease ...that's why we are fully and totally committed," said Sultan Muhammadu Sa'ad Abubakar of Sokoto of Nigeria.

The faith leaders are also collaborating with the Nigerian government, which has found the faith-based sector an integral partner in the malaria fight.

Babatunde Osotimehin, minister of health in Nigeria, is confident that Nigeria will be rid of malaria in the coming years through the new partnerships. He pointed out, however, that partnering with faith communities is not about networking but about utilizing those who are trusted by the people.

"Politicians come and go," Osotimehin said. "Nigerians know and trust faith leaders." Nigeria accounts for 25 percent of malaria cases in Africa.

Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, applauded the new spirit of collaboration and assured global leaders on Friday of the United States' commitment.

"If we could bottle the energy and expertise in this room, we would surely have malaria on the run," she said.

"It's time to band together to bring another unnecessary plague to its necessary end. I'm here today to say that malaria is a scourge that we will end," she declared. "On World Malaria Day, the United States pledges to continue working with this extraordinary collaboration with all of you to further spur grassroots, governmental and private sector efforts to defeat this beatable, treatable disease."

Perhaps most exciting to those attending the "One World Against Malaria" launch was the energy from the youth and the felt assurance that future generations will have malaria and other devastating pandemics on the run.

Eight-year-old Katherine Commale is close to raising $100,000 for the Nothing But Nets campaign and is actively raising awareness in churches and schools about the preventable disease.

"I have heard people talk about [ending] malaria by 2015. I think if we work really, really hard we could even end malaria a year early," she said, after receiving the Dragonfly award. "I can't wait until the day when the children of Africa don't have to worry about malaria anymore."

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