Bush unveils £660m package to target malaria

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In a speech in Washington a few days before G8 leaders assemble in Gleneagles for their annual summit, Mr Bush also said the US would spend $450m on measures to boost girls' education in Africa, and strengthen legal protection for women against sexual abuse and violence.

Tony Blair, the summit's host, has placed Africa and global climate change at the top of the G8's agenda, and Mr Bush's promises yesterday were generally welcomed by aid groups. They will increase the prospects for a successful outcome of the meeting, already poised to endorse an agreement by rich industrial nations to forgive $40bn of debt owed by the world's poorest countries, most of them in Africa.

Downing Street hailed the announcement as the fulfilment of a key British goal to secure a $25bn a year increase in international aid for Africa by 2010.

Mr Blair's official spokesman said that President Bush's pledge, combined with promised increases in aid from Canada, Japan and the European Union, met the first target set by the Commission for Africa, the body established by Mr Blair to argue for a dramatic increase in aid and debt relief for some of the world's poorest nations.

The spokesman said President Bush's announcement "also puts us within real reach of an extra $50bn in total aid for all developing countries." He added: "The President's announcements today are a big contribution to these important aims."

But Mr Bush bluntly restated his view that aid is not a one-way street. He made clear that assistance should be primarily directed to countries with "good governance" and that had already set reforms in motion. African leaders must be the "agents of reform" rather than "passive recipients of money".

Over the long run, Mr Bush argued, trade – even more than aid – offered the best hope of overcoming poverty and generating sustained growth for Africa, and then only if peace prevailed. To this end, the US would help train 40,000 African peacekeepers, as part of a G8 initiative to be presented at Gleneagles.

"The world must take action now," Mr Bush said of the proposed anti-malaria project. "Large-scale action can defeat this disease in whole regions. Together we can lift this threat and defeat this fear across the African continent."

The initiative calls for tens of millions of dollars to Tanzania, Uganda and Angola in the first year. At least four more countries will be added in 2007 and five more in 2008. In all, the proposal will cover 175 million people in at least 15 nations most affected by a disease which takes 1 million lives a year worldwide.

The White House hopes the various initiatives – coupled with $674m (£372m) in emergency famine relief announced earlier this month – will stem criticism that the US is dragging its heels on aid to Africa.

The administration has rejected a proposal by Mr Blair to make up to $50bn a year available to Africa, through long-term aid commitments allowing poor countries to raise money on global capital markets.

But even in the US, yesterday's announcements drew criticism. The malaria initiative would merely take money from existing health programmes, said Tom Lantos, the senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee. The Bush White House was "playing a shell game" with all aid to Africa, except for its "high-profile efforts on Aids".

Aid agencies welcomed the package but said they did not go far enough. Oxfam called on Mr Blair to maintain high expectations to push the G8 nations to meet the goal of increasing aid by $50bn by 2015.

Jo Leadbeater, head of advocacy at the agency, said: "We welcome the drive to increase aid to Africa to $25bn, but this must be part of an overall package of an extra $50bn in aid to poor countries. This money is needed now, not in 2010."

Action Aid said President Bush's announcement was "very modest". Patrick Watt, a senior policy officer at the charity, said: "This is a very modest step forward that is being spun as a colossal leap. Three-quarters of the increase has already been committed and 70 per cent is tied to the purchase of US goods and services."