WASHINGTON (Reuters) - African singer and activist Youssou N'Dour on Friday challenged the next president of the United States to eradicate malaria, Africa's biggest killer.
While there has been steady progress in treating and slowing the spread of the mosquito-borne disease, N'Dour said in an interview he believes malaria is entirely preventable and could be wiped out if sufficient funding was available.
"Simply, we need more effort," said the singer and composer, who has used his celebrity to campaign for funding to help Africa's impoverished people fight disease and suffering.
Often described as Africa's most famous living singer, N'Dour expressed concern about the growing global food crisis, saying it had increased strains on poor people and made them more vulnerable to diseases like malaria.
At the White House to mark Malaria Awareness Day, N'Dour spoke to President George W. Bush about the rising cost of food, which has sparked rioting and political instability around the world, including in N'Dour's native Senegal, a stable democracy in turbulent West Africa.
Malaria, caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes, kills as many as 1.3 million people a year, most of them African children younger than 5.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria estimates the disease costs Africa over $12 billion a year in lost gross domestic product. The fund says the illness could be controlled for a fraction of that amount.
N'Dour applauded Bush's efforts to fund HIV/AIDS and malaria programs in Africa, but said the next U.S. president must do more.
"The next president could say, 'we're going to eradicate"' malaria, N'Dour said, calling for malaria programs to be supported throughout Africa.
N'Dour, who has spoken out against the conflict in western Sudan's Darfur region, said he had heard many political promises to end the strife but seen little progress or regard for the human suffering.
"The problem of Darfur is about interests," he said, referring to competition for oil in Sudan involving countries like China. "This makes the problem of Darfur more complicated."
N'Dour said Africa's crises were setting back a continent that has received stronger international support and made some democratic strides in recent years. Still, the singer said he was optimistic about the future.
"Look at young Africans. They're really open to the world. We have to bring this positive image of Africa to show the world there are difficulties in Darfur or Zimbabwe, but on the other hand there are positive things happening," he said.