Words Count – Does Malaria?

Most people anticipated President Bush’s State of the Union Speech for clues about the direction of war or domestic policy. Obviously we at Voices for a Malaria Free Future were anticipating news on the fate of the President’s Malaria Initiative, which is threatened by lack of adequate funds if the fiscal year 2006 budget levels remain in place. In fact, the President said to the assembled Houses of Congress, “I ask you to provide $1.2 billion over five years so we can combat malaria in 15 African countries.”  Hopefully Congress knows the importance of this initiative and the lives at stake, because the address was not a very strong sales pitch.

An interesting feature in the New York Times today is a comparison of the frequency of key words used in this President’s past State of the Union addresses.  Malaria was mentioned once last night, twice last year and not at all in previous years. More commonly mentioned words in last night’s address were Iraq (34), insurance (14), oil (9) and economy (8).  Africa, where the most deaths from malaria occur, was mentioned three times, and AIDS, the focus of another major Presidential initiative was voiced only once this year, but four times in 2006.

Political commentators muse that malaria control may be one of the key points in Presiden Bush’s legacy.  This will only happen if there is greater leadership and advocacy for malaria programs, and if a true bipartisan spirit prevails, putting the long term interests of children, pregnant women and workers in malaria-endemic countries ahead of short term political gains.  Malaria needs to be mentioned more than once for this interest to develop.

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