My trip following
President Clinton in Africa continued today with stops in two west African countries.
We touched down in Liberia this morning and traveled the road from the airport to the capital of Monrovia with a security escort provided by United Nations peacekeepers. These peacekeepers have been in the country since 2003 to provide security following a brutal civil war that killed over 200,000 people. Considering the population of Liberia is only 3.5 million, these are truly staggering numbers.
Our time here was brief. We first stopped at a construction site of a new Clinton Global Initiative project, the Golden Key Hotel, which promises to be a new high-end hotel and conference center. At a quick ceremony the President and Liberian Minister of Information and Tourism chatted with reporters.
As fate would have it, the Minister and President have crossed paths before. The Minister also happens to be a minister of the religious variety who fled Liberia during the civil war and relocated to Gaithersburg, Maryland. During the string of arson attacks on Black churches in the mid-1990s, the president and minister-Minister worshiped together in a show of solidarity. Here, 3,000 miles and a decade later, they once again joined teamed up, this time to highlight the promise of Liberia's economic development.
After a brief tour of an open air market, we made our way to the office of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist, Africa's only female head of state and arguably the most popular political figure on the continent. At a public ceremony with President Clinton that included a number of Liberian politicians and the entire American delegation (celebrities and all), the President announced a new Clinton Foundation sponsored anti-Malaria program for the country.
Malaria is the number one killer of children under five in Liberia. A nurse affiliated with a Clinton Foundation sponsored hospital estimated that about half of all deaths in Liberia were in some way connected to Malaria. The problem is, drugs to combat the disease are expensive and hard to deliver to rural areas most in need. At the ceremony with President Sirleaf, President Clinton announced that he was able to secure a 30% reduction in price of the most effective anti-Malarial drug by working with donors to purchase the medicine in bulk. He also announced plans to establish delivery mechanism to make sure that the drugs are able to reach communities most in need.
After a photo-op with President Sirleaf, we left Liberia and headed north to Senegal for one of the Africa trip's major announcements.
In the garden outside a pediatric AIDS clinic in Dakar, former French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy (who is the executive director of UNITAID), a representative from the World Health Organization, a current French government minister, Senegalese officials and hospital workers announced the launch of a new partnership to treat all HIV positive children under 12 months old in 16 of the neediest countries around the world.
This is a significant development. Treating an infant with AIDS is a cumbersome and expensive task. It requires multiple steps and multiple trips to the hospital, which in turn means that parents in poor countries often have difficulty adhering to the diagnosis and treatment regimen. The World Health Organization recently announced new policy guidelines recommending that countries streamline this process by delivering new (and more costly) Anti-Retroviral Treatments to infants immediately upon diagnosis.
Of course, the problem is funding and implementing this new policy. The big announcement today was that, UNITAID -- a French sponsored organization that raises money to fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and TB from a 2 Euro tax on commercial airplane tickets -- has declared that it is going to provide $460 million in 16 countries to fund this policy. The Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative will be one of the on-the-ground NGOs that will implement the policy in partner countries. If implemented, infant mortality rates for HIV-positive children under 12 months old could decrease four-fold. This means hundreds of thousands of children's lives could be saved.
Now, we are off to Mexico City, the final leg of our trip where President Clinton will deliver a keynote address at the 2008 World Aids Summit. Stay tuned.
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