The United States will lead its world partners in the battle to end deaths from malaria by 2015, US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said in Washington Friday.
"I am here today to say malaria is a scourge we will end," Rice told a gathering of UN officials, global faith leaders, a star musician and malaria experts at the launch of a UN report and new faith-based campaign to wipe out the disease that claims the lives of 3,000 African children a day.
"President Obama is committed to making the United States a global leader in ending deaths from malaria by 2015," Rice said to applause.
"If we could bottle the energy and expertise in this room, we would surely have malaria on the run," she said.
Although deaths from malaria have been halted in places like North America and Europe, the mosquito-borne disease still claims the lives of nearly one million people a year.
The vast majority of malaria victims are in Africa, and most are children who die before their fifth birthday, Ann Veneman, executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) told the conference, as she presented a report on how the battle against malaria is being won.
"The report shows that major and measurable successes are being achieved in fighting a disease that is one of the leading killers of children and a major cause of poverty," Veneman said.
"This report reminds us: malaria can become a disease of the past."
In a statement issued by the White House, Obama hailed the "great strides" that have been made in "addressing this preventable and treatable illness."
The road to wiping out malaria deaths by the middle of next decade "begins with ending malaria as a major public health threat in Africa," the statement said.
And a key weapon in that battle is the simple mosquito net, the conference was told.
"In 10 African countries, an estimated 125,000 malaria deaths have been prevented from 2001 to 2007 through increased use of insecticide-treated nets," said Veneman.
That represents one-eighth of the estimated one million deaths which the World Health Organization (WHO) blamed on malaria in 2006.
The use of insecticide-treated nets, one of the most effective ways of preventing malaria, has increased at least threefold since 2000 in 19 of 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the region hardest hit by malaria, the UNICEF report said.
Alongside the report, the One World Against Malaria Campaign was launched Friday, aiming to tap into local communities' trust of and easy access to faith leaders and institutions, which are highly effective at educating people about malaria and providing treatment and preventive tools, such as mosquito nets.
"Many rural areas lack health clinics, but they almost always have a mosque or a church," said Rice, adding that nearly a third of some 150 non-profit organizations which the United States has supported in the fight against malaria were faith-based groups.
Faith-based organizations are more effective in bringing about the social change that is necessary if the fight against malaria is to succeed, said Ed Scott, founder and chairman of the Center for Inter-Faith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA).
"Governments are effective at organizing spraying campaigns and distributing nets, but getting people to actually sleep under the nets, to welcome people into their homes to do spraying, is not so easy," Scott told AFP.
"The people who are best equipped to encourage social change are the faith-based institutions," he said.
In Africa, faith-based organizations provide about 40 percent of healthcare, WHO Assistant Director General for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, Hiroki Nakatani, said.
At the conference, jazz great Quincy Jones was presented with an award recognizing his lifelong dedication to humanitarian work.
"He was the one who inspired me to get involved in malaria," Ray Chambers, special envoy for malaria to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, told AFP.
"As I learned about malaria through Quincy, it really tugged at me because it's killing three times more kids under the age of five than HIV/AIDS, and it's preventable with a 10-dollar mosquito net," he said.
Accepting the award as the fund-raising song he produced, "We are the World", played over loudspeakers, Jones said simply: "It's a remarkable thing to be on the road to defeating malaria."