Bush Plays Healer-in-Chief in Africa

ARUSHA, Tanzania -- U.S. President George W. Bush handed out hugs and bed nets to battle malaria in Tanzania's rural north on Monday, saying the United States is part of an international effort to provide enough mosquito netting to protect every child under 5 in the east African nation.

"The disease keeps sick workers home, school yards 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 a 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.

Bush 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 5 every year. U.S. 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.

In the northern highlands of Arusha, an area known as a cradle of African safari adventure, Bush announced that the United States 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 aged 1 to 5 in Tanzania.

In the hospital, women spontaneously hugged the president, who is popular here for the help his administration is providing to battle disease.

He visited with pregnant women receiving vouchers for bed nets and children waiting to be diagnosed and treated for malaria. He shook hands as mothers quieted fussy children.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meanwhile, went from Tanzania into Kenya to try to help push forward deadlocked peace talks. A disputed presidential election there recently led to a wave of violence.