Remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice at the UN Foundation's "Nothing But Nets" Summit
National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice
Keynote Remarks at Nothing But Nets Champion Summit
Washington Marriot Georgetown
Monday, February 22, 2016
Thank you, Kathy, for your generous words and your outstanding leadership of the UN Foundation. I want to offer my deepest thanks for this incredible award, which I accept on behalf of the countless public servants across our government who work every day to bring us closer to our shared goal: a world without malaria.
It’s great to be with you, celebrating ten years of Nothing But Nets. I did play basketball a very long time ago, but I have to confess that “nothing but net” was not a phrase often used with regard to my jump shot. I want to thank all the leaders here today from throughout government, the private sector, and the public health community; members of the diplomatic corps; and Admiral Tim Ziemer, our heroic Global Malaria Coordinator.
I especially want to salute all the Champions here today. That includes Jack Delaney and Griffin Bader, who’ve held three-on-three basketball tournaments to raise awareness and funds to fight malaria. And, 15-year-old Naomi Kodama has been donating her birthday money to this cause since she was 7 years old. Seven! Give yourselves a hand, everyone.
I’m not going to give a long speech. I don’t want to be a “buzzkill”—though I understand this audience actually considers that term a compliment. I want to begin by thanking Nothing But Nets. Starting with that powerful column Rick Reilly wrote in the pages of Sports Illustrated, you ignited a global movement. All told, you have distributed nearly 10 million nets—proof that all of us—from students to CEOs to superstar athletes like Abby Wambach and Steph Curry—can make a world of difference. We’re hoping, by the way, that groups like the NBA and NCAA will continue to lead on this issue.
President Obama shares your passion. Promoting global health—and global health security—is a cornerstone of his foreign policy. We’ve committed billions of dollars to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, bringing together public and private funders. Thanks to our hard work and the work of so many partners, we’ve made great strides. Maternal mortality is down. Child mortality is down. We’re pursuing our goal to be the first AIDS-free generation. We led the global response against Ebola, supporting our partners in West Africa—and, as we speak, we’re applying those hard-learned lessons to combat the Zika virus.
While it may not always grab headlines, there are few diseases that we have attacked as vigorously as malaria. Over the past seven years, President Obama has built on President Bush’s landmark President’s Malaria Initiative—more than doubling its funding. Led by USAID and the CDC—and drawing on agencies from the Peace Corps to the Department of Defense—the Obama Administration has invested nearly $5 billion in the fight against malaria. We’ve worked with partner countries, donors, and multilateral organizations across the globe. In just the past year, we protected nearly 16 million people by spraying homes. We delivered more than 42 million long-lasting insecticide-treated nets, 60 million antimalarial treatments, and 54 million rapid diagnostic tests. It all adds up.
Together, we’ve come closer than ever to banishing the scourge of malaria from the planet. We didn’t just meet the malaria Millennium Development Goal—we blew past it. Now, it’s on to the Sustainable Development Goals. Since 2000, we’ve halved the number of children killed by malaria, and saved more than 6 million lives. We’ve reinforced shaky health systems. Over 100 countries are now malaria-free, and another 57 cut their incidence of malaria by at least three quarters. More kids can go to school. More parents can go to work. More people can say, as one Malian mother did, “I came to the community health worker because my son had a fever, and I’m thankful we were able to get medicine.”
But as we all know, our work is far from done. More than 3 billion people remain at risk of contracting malaria. Malaria continues to steal about 800 of Africa’s children each day—enough to fill this room nearly three times over. I know how inspiring it was to hear Thon Chol’s story of life as a Lost Boy, but we cannot forget that malaria still stalks millions of refugees fleeing violence and civil war. It endangers the pregnancies of mothers and the health of newborns. Economists estimate the direct cost of malaria at $12 billion a year, and the disease’s true cost is likely far greater. Now, we’re seeing the spread of drug-resistant malaria strains—even as climate change potentially expands the range of the mosquitos who carry malaria. It’s no wonder that, in India, they once called malaria the “king of diseases.”
That’s why, at the UN Sustainable Development Goal summit last September, President Obama declared that it is a “moral outrage” that “many children are just one mosquito bite away from death.” He’s absolutely right. Whether it’s a child with malaria or a mother with HIV, these afflictions tear at our consciences and threaten human dignity. But this is not just a moral imperative. When people are free of disease, they can be free to pursue other opportunities—to start businesses, advocate for political progress, and work to end conflicts.
So I’m here today for the same reason that my first speech as National Security Advisor was on development—because in our interconnected world, threats to public health are a serious national security concern for the United States. It’s right there in the Worldwide Threat Assessment sitting on my desk. Beating diseases like malaria is the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do—for our common security.
In his State of the Union address last month, the President made clear that fighting malaria remains a top priority. And, I’m proud that the Administration’s recently submitted budget requests an additional $200 million for the President’s Malaria Initiative, bringing our total annual request to $874 million. With these resources, we will be able to take bold new steps to combat this killer that comes in the dusk and the night.
First, we’re adding PMI programs in three new countries—Sierra Leone, Cote D’Ivoire, and Cameroon—and expanding our existing program in Burkina Faso. That means nearly 70 million more at-risk people will have access to insecticide-treated nets, anti-malarial drugs, and other interventions. Our work will now cover roughly 332 million people—92 percent of those at risk—from Senegal to Cameroon.
Second, the United States—in partnership with host governments, NGOs, and other partners—is launching an effort to eliminate malaria in two countries: Zambia and Cambodia. Zambia suffered from high rates of malaria—so if we can eliminate malaria there, we can eliminate it anywhere. And, because Cambodia is the geographic epicenter of emerging drug resistance, ridding it of malaria would minimize the threat of drug-resistant malaria elsewhere.
Third, we’re going to provide nearly 14 million more bed nets—and ensure that over 27 million people in sub-Saharan Africa can sleep safely at night. Because as you know well, these low-cost nets is the most effective malaria intervention we have.
Finally, working with both public and private sector researchers, we’re going to accelerate the research, development, and evaluation of new tools to combat malaria. Better diagnostic equipment. Greater control over malaria-ridden mosquitos. Lifesaving vaccines and medicines. We aim to help spark the next big discovery.
These steps represent our intensified commitment to a world without malaria, and we’re calling on Congress to continue the tradition of bipartisan support for global health and to fully fund these efforts. Because the one thing we can’t do is take our eye off the ball. Since I started speaking, more than 400 people contracted malaria. Six children were taken from us—beautiful young people who will never become the next Nelson Mandela or Graça Machel. As my good friend, our USAID Administrator, Gayle Smith has said, “The battle against malaria is also a battle against complacency.”
But whether we’re confronting apathy in the developed world or drug resistance in the developing world, we can overcome these obstacles. Why do I believe that? Because we’ve done it before. A hundred years ago, malaria haunted the Western world. Now, it’s a distant memory. As recently as the mid-20th century, malaria was a killer in this country. In muggy Washington D.C. today, the whine of a mosquito on a summer night is considered a nuisance, not a death sentence.
So there’s no excuse for inaction. We can do this. It won’t be easy but we must do this. And, when I look at all of you—when I think about all that we’ve already accomplished together—I’m confident that we will succeed. Thank you.