Two days before delivering his last State of the Union address, President Obama called one of his top advisers into the Oval Office and said he had decided to add a major pledge to the speech that his team had neither discussed nor vetted: to rid the world of malaria.
“It was his belief that we were nearing a kind of tipping point when we should set a major goal of eradicating malaria,” said the aide, Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.
Mr. Rhodes was given 48 hours to make sure the president could follow through on his commitment.
The result was two sentences about how, in part through American commitment, the world could soon “end the scourge of H.I.V./AIDS.”
“And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria — something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year,” Mr. Obama said.
The pledge sent a frisson of excitement through researchers and philanthropic organizations focused on malaria, a disease that remains one of the top killers of children around the world.
“What the president said in the State of the Union really matters,” said Martin Edlund, the chief executive of Malaria No More, an advocacy group. “It’s a really big deal.”
Other experts were skeptical. Dyann F. Wirth, the director of the Harvard Malaria Initiative, is one of many malaria experts who have expressed doubts that the disease can be eradicated in the near future.
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