The 2010 South Africa World Cup football tournament was one with a difference.
As people all over the world waited with bated breath for the ultimate winner of the much coveted gold cup in the South Africa 2010 World Cup football tournament, it was also a call for action to kick out malaria from the continent.
The persistent shout throughout the tournament “this is our time”, was a call to take up arms across the continent against malaria and reach out to the millions of spectators and football fans as well as governments to accept the message to roll back the deadly disease through the appropriate utilization of prevention tools such as bed nets and anti-malarials.
FIFA PRESIDENT SEPP BLATTER
The world's football governing body, FIFA and the United Against Malaria (UAM) partnership have seized on this rare opportunity to fly the anti malaria campaign on the wings of the South Africa 2010 football fiesta. The UAM partnership is using football to engage politicians, business leaders and individuals as a template for future action against the disease.
The campaign, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, brings together global health organizations, governments, corporations and football teams to help reach the United Nations target of universal access to mosquito nets and malaria medicine in Africa by the end of 2010.
Many African companies are grappling with the challenge of protecting their employees and their families from the ravages of the disease and have been hooked into the campaign as a result of the link with football and the World Cup in South Africa.
National football associations in Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania threw their weight behind the effort to reduce the impact of malaria on their teams and their communities. Some of the national football teams that have signed on to the UAM campaign are Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, US, Ireland and Zambia. Celebrity supporters include Bono (musician and anti poverty campaigner), Ashley Judd (actress and human rights campaigner), Molley Simms (model and film star) and Youssou Ndour (musician and anti malaria campaigner).
“The ultimate goal of the UAM partnership is to get mosquito nets to all those in need by the end of 2010 and ensure that nets were being used properly," says Ray Chambers, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Malaria. "Too often, nets are being left in their packaging or not utilized properly, but by combining Africa's enthusiasm for football with messages encouraging proper net utilization, we know we can save lives." He added
The campaign already boasts the support of 16 national football associations in Africa, as well as top footballers such as Kolo Toure, Michael Essien, Didier Drogba, Fredi Kanoute and Landon Donovan.
The long term support of Roger Milla, one of the best known African footballers of all time, will help ensure malaria remains a focus for leaders across Africa.
“I have suffered from malaria, my friends and family have suffered from malaria and Africa has suffered from malaria for far too long,” said Roger Milla, former Cameroon international.
“This World Cup is special as the first one in Africa and by using football, the United Against Malaria campaign has built up a formidable partnership to end deaths from this terrible disease. I know I cannot make a big difference alone, and that is why I have signed up to be a member of the United Against Malaria team.”
One of the major challenges over the coming years will be to ensure that treatment and prevention tools are used correctly and that African leadership maintains its focus on malaria.
These are both areas where football can use its almost universal appeal across the continent to help overcome these challenges. Football can reach into the most remote corners of the continent, and as such, can play an important role in delivering messages to make sure mosquito nets are firstly used and secondly used correctly.
“FIFA, and their President Sepp Blatter, have been instrumental in the success of our campaign to date. By encouraging national football associations to take on a cause we have found willing partners in countries like Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda, amongst others,” said Herve Verhoosel, External Relations Manager of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership.
From KENYA, David Njagi reports that Nairobi hopes that by the end of July when the world soccer tournament draws to a close, the young generation would have benefited from donations from a partnership between Vastergaard Frandsen, East Africa, and UAM to influence the campaign against malaria through youth soccer tournaments.
Vastergaard Frandsen Regional Director, Thomas Tolstrup Hansen, said the grant would provide football kits packaged with PermaNet, shirts and footballs, as well as an information kit to educate the youth on malaria prevention.
“This year we will focus on football in view of the World Cup to create awareness, and inform the general public about malaria. To achieve that we must ensure a greater increase in the use of available prevention tools and malaria treatment”, declared Thomas Hansen.
Medical camps would be set up in Kisii, Kisumu, Mombasa and Nairobi regions, as well as outside major shopping malls and clinics to screen residents for malaria and educate the public about malaria prevention.
The campaign comes amidst experts concern over the increasing loss of potency among the malaria control strategies currently being applied.
Meanwhile, in Ghana, Rebecca Kwei, reports that the campaign is being spearheaded in Ghana by the National Sports Council, the National Malaria Control Programme, the Ghana Football Association and the John Hopkins University Centre for Communication Programs (JHU/CCP) and Voices for Malaria-free future, among others.
“While the nation sets its sights on qualifying and winning the world cup, my organization on the other hand is determined to use the 2010 World Cup as a springboard in the fight against malaria in the country,” says Mr Emmanuel Fiagbey, Country Director of the JHU/CCP.
Ghana Football Association President, Mr. Kwesi Nyantakyi, said it was a social service obligation for the association to be part of the campaign because “we find the 3.2 million cases of malaria recorded each year in Ghana and the 20,000 children who die of the disease in a year totally unacceptable.”