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June 25, 2009 at 2:26 PM

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Rotary begins grass-roots effort to bolster fight against malaria

Posted by Kristi Heim

Seattle's global health focus on malaria is getting the support of the largest Rotary Club in the world.

The Seattle Rotary is partnering with local health non-profit PATH, which works with African governments on malaria control efforts from a base in Zambia.

With so many organizations involved in malaria-related projects -- from large humanitarian groups to celebrities to public campaigns like Nothing But Nets and corporate efforts like Malaria No More -- I wondered what exactly Rotary would be able to do. It's still tackling polio in a final push toward eradicating the disease.


Mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite cling to the I.V. tube in the Childrens Ward of the Morogoro Regional Hospital in Tanzania.

Seattle Rotary President Nancy Sclater, who traveled to Zambia recently to see PATH's work, explained that the malaria partnership is a grass-roots effort that starts with Seattle Rotary members joining their counterparts in Zambian Rotary clubs.

"It's hands-on, connecting with people at a grass-roots level, member to member and club to club," she said. While Rotary members continue to make trips administering polio vaccine, they can also distribute insecticide treated bednets.

Members will work together to deliver bednets in rural communities, teach people how to use them properly and provide basic health training on malaria symptoms and techniques to avoid it, she said. They will help develop a guidebook about the use of bednets and effective malaria prevention and treatment. Rotary is also hoping to bring African communities and businesses into the effort. Business ties between Seattle and Africa are growing.

"The health and productivity of people in Africa has broad implications globally," Sclater wrote in this message. "There is a continued perception that African nations cannot manage their business; however, there is striking evidence to the contrary."

Using proven strategies like bednets, Zambia has been able to cut malaria prevalence in children by more than half, and cut the number of children dying of malaria in Zambia by a third, according to PATH.

The disease kills one million people a year, mostly African children.

"We may be far removed geographically from children dying in Africa, but it is a cause that demonstrates the growing reputation and commitment Seattle has toward global philanthropy that will help improve the lives of people everywhere," Sclater wrote.

PATH's Kent Campbell said the scientific efforts underway by PATH, SBRI and others to fight the disease need help by community organizations on both sides.

"We need Rotary to support critical program gaps such as insecticide-treated bed nets, procurement, health education and advocacy and commodity management in Zambia that can be replicated by other clubs in other remote areas of Africa," said Campbell, director of PATH's Malaria Control and Evaluation Program.

The program can serve as a model in other African countries, connecting with Rotary's network of 32,000 clubs worldwide. The success of Rotary's polio efforts, while still not finished, is a reason for confidence about the new malaria project, Sclater said.

This week Rotary International announced it has nearly reached the halfway point in its $200 million goal to fund a final push against polio.

The funds announced today will be used to match a $350 million challenge grant recently awarded to Rotary by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an agreement that will provide $555 million to the global health initiative within the next three years.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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