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Carter Seeks To Boost Caribbean Malaria Fight

Jovind Fritzner is well-known in this border town, where the ditches lining the dirt roads collect stagnant water perfect for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Fritzner oversees the town's malaria prevention program, and residents frequently ask him when he'll return to apply more doses of mosquito-killing white powder to fetid gullies.

"It would be easier if we had everything to kill the mosquitoes because if we had the equipment, I will make sure we kill them," Fritzner said in Creole. "It's a little bit frustrating. There's a lot more to be done. We'll need more equipment, we'll need more people. But I'm optimistic."

He is a key player in the long fight against the mosquito-born illness on the two-nation island of Hispaniola, malaria's last outpost in the Caribbean. An estimated 30,000 Haitians were infected this year and several thousand more across the border in the Dominican Republic.

Former President Jimmy Carter will visit the two countries Wednesday in hopes of spurring their leaders to join an island-wide pact to fight the disease.

Carter will also check in on the progress of a $200,000 pilot project established by the nonprofit Carter Center that local health officials say has helped curb the spread of malaria.

The pilot project in Ouanaminthe and neighboring Dajabon, in the Dominican Republic, purchases nets treated with insecticide for residents to hang over their beds, microscopes to help lab technicians diagnose malaria samples and motorbikes so field workers can zip along cramped alleys to test and treat residents.

The center's goal is to remove from this corner of the world the last vestiges of malaria, a disease that causes high fevers and flulike symptoms and kills more than one million people each year, most of them in Africa. It also would eliminate the threat of the disease spreading to nearby islands, including Jamaica and the Bahamas.

The goal is to show the leaders of the two countries that it's more costly to neglect malaria than to erase it, said Dr. Don Hopkins, the director of the Carter Center's health programs. But he said only a combined effort between the two countries will eliminate the disease.

"We want to help both sides raise their sights up from the day-to-day battle with these two diseases and agree on the aspiration that where they should be trying to go is an ultimate target date to eliminate both diseases from the island," he said.

In an interview before the trip, Carter said he's committed to traveling to "the most distant and small and isolated and poverty-stricken villages in the deserts, in the jungles and in the poorest countries on Earth" and wiping out diseases that have long been distant memories in richer countries.

"It's a very different kind of life than any person could sort of do while still in the White House," Carter said.

It's an arduous campaign, and health workers said it is particularly difficult to develop a strategy that fits Haiti along with the more developed Dominican side. Spreading the campaign throughout the island promises to be costly, too _ health officials say they'll ask donors for $200 million to launch the program.

But perhaps the biggest struggle will be convincing the island's leaders to stay focused on defeating the disease.

"The biggest challenge is to continue to have the will, to continue to push the Dominicans and the Haitians to work together," said Dr. Joanel Mondestin, who heads Haiti's northeast regional health office. "We share the same island so it's impossible to eradicate malaria unless we're together. For the malaria, there is no border."

Paulane Antoine credits the pilot project with saving the lives of two of her eight children. Her 6-year-old boy Frantz and 3-year-old girl Baby Love both came down with malaria earlier this year, but medication saved them from the brink of death.

Antoine said she hopes one day she and her neighbrs can stop worrying about the disease.

"We already have enough problems," she said in Creole as she sat near the lone bed net in her cramped three-room cinderblock home. "It's already hard enough to stay healthy here."


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