Thank you Molly. Let me also thank Principal Trogisch for hosting us at this outstanding school today, and thank two great supporters of the UN, Kathy Calvin and Karen Mulhauser, for joining us. I’m delighted to be at the School Without Walls, with the United Nations Foundation and the United Nations Association’s Global Classrooms program, and with all of you—the young people we are counting on to lead and to serve. I’m going to talk for just a few minutes, then take some of your questions.
Happy as I am to be here with you, this is not an easy day. This is a day when the United States bows its head in sorrow, in solemn memory of the three thousand souls taken from us on a clear and bright morning eight years ago.
Today, for the first time, Americans across the country are marking 9/11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. All across the country, citizens are coming together to improve their communities. They are extending a helping hand to their neighbors, both in the country we all love and in the world we all share. Over the summer, President Obama launched an important program known as United We Serve, calling on all Americans to participate in meaningful service. This is a day carved into history by terrorists who sought to drive people apart. But we mark this day by bringing our communities and our world together.
You are all going to inherit a very different planet from the one I grew up in—a new and more complex place, one where we’re all bound closer together. It’s an age of great challenge and great opportunity. It’s an age when the suffering of people on the far side of the world can directly affect the lives that you and I lead. And it’s an age in which even one person can make a world of difference.
There are many ways we can make that difference. But I’m particularly passionate about the cause we’re here to learn more about: a deadly disease that we can defeat together, and a struggle where each and every one of you have a chance to lead.
Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite and transmitted by mosquito bite. Now if you or I hear the whine of a mosquito on a summer night, we just slap it away without a moment’s thought, because malaria has been eliminated in America since the early 1950s. But in large parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, where mosquitoes often carry malaria, a simple mosquito bite can be the difference between life and death.
People infected with malaria often develop fever, chills, and an illness that can look a lot like flu. If they don’t get treated, they can suffer severe complications and even die.
Let’s assume that today is an ordinary day in tropical Africa, the area that’s hardest hit by malaria. That means it is also a day when nearly 3,000 people will die of malaria. And nearly 90 percent of malaria’s victims are children under the age of 5.
But here’s the thing about this killer that comes in the dusk and the night: we can beat it. We can end malaria. I don’t mean just cut it down to size. I mean end it.
We now have effective and drugs to treat malaria and its related illnesses, and those drugs are becoming more and more affordable, even in poor countries. We also now have reliable ways to prevent malaria. In particular, that means nets you can hang over your bed, treated with insecticides, which keep mosquitoes away so people in malaria zones don’t get infected in the first place. We can also use indoor sprays to kill off mosquitoes, and we can give safe and inexpensive anti-malaria drugs to pregnant women.
President Obama is committed to making the United States a global leader in ending deaths from malaria by 2015. So we’re providing real resources for the fight against malaria: the United States will commit about $527 million this budget year. And we have already contributed more than $3.3 billion to an important Global Fund that fights malaria as well as two other deadly diseases, AIDS and tuberculosis. Last year, the United States also got more than 6.4 million long-lasting mosquito nets to be distributed free to pregnant women and young children.
Together with our partners, we are getting some pretty striking results. Consider Ethiopia, in East Africa, which has undertaken one of the most ambitious programs ever to deliver long-lasting, insecticide-treated nets to keep those deadly mosquitoes away. With U.S. and global help, the Government of Ethiopia delivered nearly 20 million nets to its people in just two years. The result of this tremendous effort, combined with more access to new anti-malaria medications? According to the World Health Organization, the number of inpatient malaria cases and malaria deaths in Ethiopia was cut in more than half.
This is great progress, but our work is not nearly done. Millions of children in Africa go to bed every night without a mosquito net. A handful of particularly hard-hit African countries still account for roughly half the global deaths from malaria.
Let’s remember that malaria used to cause the same kind of suffering and sickness in America that it now causes overseas. But America beat it. There is no good reason why we can’t do that everywhere. And that is where you come in.
You’re already taking the first step: you’re learning about malaria, why it’s so dangerous, and how it can be stopped.
All across America, young people like yourselves are getting involved in the fight against malaria, through efforts like the Nothing But Nets campaign, which works to provide African countries with enough nets to stop infection by mosquito. So I want to challenge you to join in today. You can raise money. You can raise awareness. And you can raise your sights.
Just a few dollars here can save a life. Just a bit of effort from all of you can mean that people your age in Africa will never have to die from another mosquito bite. You’re taking a great first step here. I hope you’ll take the next ones too.
And that brings me to one last thing. You may ask why I believe that young people can change the world. My answer is simple: because you always have.
The UN Foundation and Nothing But Nets have set up a great event for all of us today, and I’m looking forward to joining in. But before we break to start our service project, let me open it up for questions you may have. Thanks a lot, everyone.
The UN Foundation and Nothing But Nets have set up a great event for all of us today, and I’m looking forward to joining in. But before we break to start our service project, let me open it up for any questions you may have. Thanks a lot, everyone.
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