14 February 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL’S SPECIAL ENVOY ON MALARIA


The millions of children dying from malaria -- mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa -- was a “genocide of apathy”, the newly appointed Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers, said today at a Headquarters press conference.


A successful businessman and “full-time and hands-on” philanthropist of 19 years, Mr. Chambers said that 25 million to 50 million children had died from malaria since 1975.  One million to three million people had died just last year.  Such deaths were entirely preventable if currently available tools, such as nets, Artemisinin-based combination therapies and indoor residual spraying were applied.


Saying he was “very humbled and honoured” to have been named Special Envoy for Malaria by the Secretary-General, Mr. Chambers explained that, several years ago, he had become involved with Jeffrey Sachs and the Millennium Development Goals.  Together they had established the “Millennium Promise Alliance”, a non-profit organization that brought the Millennium Development Goals to some 78 villages in Africa, which were now called the Millennium Villages.  At one of those villages he had seen some photos of “cute little children” sleeping in a room.  Upon learning that those children were in a malaria coma and had died subsequently, he had proceeded to learn about the disease.


About one and a half years ago, he noted, the United Nations Foundation had established the “Nothing But Nets” campaign.  He and Peter Chernin, President of News Corp, had set up the “Malaria No More” organization, working together in partnership to raise awareness about malaria and to facilitate business plans that could end the toll that the horrible disease took on so many children.  In Washington, D.C., the Administration had agreed to hold a White House Summit in December 2006.


Mr. Chambers said he hoped that, over the next five years, a true private-public partnership led by the “Roll Back Malaria Partnership” could raise some $8 billion to $10 billion.  Leadership of the joint venture included Executive Director Awa Marie Coll-Seck; the President’s Malaria Initiative, under United States Malaria Coordinator Tim Ziemer; the World Health Organization, under Margaret Chan; the World Bank and Robert Zoellick; the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Ann Veneman; Rajat Gupta and Michel Kazatchkine of the Global Fund; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the United Nations Foundation.


According to a McKinsey Global Institute study, that amount could save 3.5 million lives, mostly children and mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, he noted.  The World Health Organization had announced that, in Rwanda and Ethiopia, as a result of having significant coverage by bed nets, and the availability of medication, mortality from malaria had dropped by 66 per cent and 51 per cent, respectively, with a comparable drop in transmission.


Malaria was a prerequisite for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, he added.  Four of the eight Goals -- regarding malaria, infant mortality, maternal mortality and poverty -- could not be achieved until the issue of malaria was resolved, and malaria was the “most eminently resolvable” of those goals and a “tipping point” towards the rest.  Because 40 per cent of the people who died from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa were Muslim, the partnership had reached out to Muslim leaders in the Middle East, and had gotten a good response.  So, he was optimistic that his mandate of greatly reducing mortality from malaria could be carried out.


Replying to questions, he said that the short-term plan would take advantage of existing tools bolstering the local health delivery system, using indoor residual spraying and medicines that has been proven to work.  That was no cure, but nearing “zero mortality” just by using available tools -- “that would be a great humanitarian achievement”.  A long-term cure, or eradication, would come from a vaccine, but that goal was years away.  It was very difficult to prepare a full-scale, comprehensive vaccine against the malaria parasite.  In the short term, attention had to be paid to science, as in the past, both the mosquito and the parasite had developed resistance to certain insecticides and medications.


Draining swamps was a very important part of fighting malaria, he said, but it should be recognized that a malaria mosquito could breed in a small puddle caused by a horse’s hoof print.  It would be very difficult, therefore, to eliminate all breeding places.  As for sterilizing the mosquitoes, research into genetically modifying the insects was ongoing.


Addressing a question about the United States presidential candidates, he said that President George W. Bush had been very helpful in combating malaria.  His wife, Laura Bush, had become a spokesperson on malaria, and the President had launched the $1.2 billion President’s Malaria Initiative.  Of the three “finalists”, Hillary Clinton had committed to add $1 billion a year to that initiative.  Barack Obama and John McCain had said they considered malaria to be a significant issue, but they had not made any financial commitments.


There was a Special Envoy for Tuberculosis and four Special Envoys for AIDS, and the malaria community had requested a Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for malaria for several years, he responded to another question.  Dr. Chan of the World Health Organization had approached him in September of last year.  He did not intend to travel around the world making speeches, so he had accepted on the condition that he would have the full force of the United Nations and the World Health Organization behind the development, as well as the budget and the execution, of the plan.


He said he had taken a leave of absence as co-Chairman of “Malaria No More” and from “Millennium Promise Alliance” on accepting the post of Special Envoy, in order to avoid any perception of any conflict of interest since both organizations were working in the area of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa, raising money from the public and the private sector.


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