Soccer Power: Kicking Malaria out of Africa
*Images courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images
With the Olympics on, it's a fever nobody seems to mind in the 54-nation continent at any time. Soccer fever, which afflicts nearly every African, has now become a powerful tool to kick malaria out of the continent of a billion people where the mosquito-borne disease kills about 2,500 people a day.
The malaria-free Africa campaign has found powerful support from the continent's charismatic soccer icons who are lending their names and voices to free the continent of this curse.
"I am strongly committed to fighting against malaria. Soccer can be used to reverse the course of this deadly disease," says Roger Milla, Cameroonian football icon, who is among celebrity soccer players who have thrown their weight behind the anti-malaria campaign.
The African Union summit (July 15-16) held in this Ethiopian capital saw the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), a regional lobby of 43 African heads of state, renew its pledge to work closely with the African Union to end this scourge on the continent.
It wasn't just pious rhetoric. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the ALMA chair, was quick to underline that the continent needed an additional $3.2 billion in funding over the next three years to achieve universal access to life-saving tools and continue the drive toward eliminating malaria deaths.
Sirleaf said the assault on malaria has to begin in Africa, which accounted for nine-tenth of worldwide deaths from the disease in 2010. "A share of these resources will come from Africa. We can't ask the world to invest in Africa's health if we won't make the same investment ourselves, but we will need the world's help," said Sirleaf.
At a meeting held on the sidelines of the summit, Sirleaf also unveiled a partnership among ALMA, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and United Against Malaria (UAM) to leverage the popularity of soccer icons to reach out to millions of African football fans with well-targeted malaria messaging.
The CAF has in fact adopted malaria as a signature social message of the 2013 Orange Football Cup of Nations. "CAF recognizes that in order for African football to compete on the global stage, we must have players and communities free of malaria," said Issa Hayatou, president of CAF.
Ahead of the final round of matches for the Orange Cup in Sep-Oct, some of African football's biggest stars, including Ghana's Andrew (Dede) Ayew, Cote d'Ivoire's Gervinho, and Senegal's Moussa Sow, have already recorded malaria prevention and treatment messages in new UAM public service announcements (PSAs) that will be aired during the tournament.
Soccer chic apart, funding, technology and innovation hold the key to a malaria-free Africa. The stakes are huge: every dollar invested in malaria control in the continent generated $40 GDP on the continent, reveals a recent independent study commissioned by ALMA, the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Malaria, and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership. The study also showed that scaling up to universal coverage of prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malaria by the end of 2015 will prevent 640 million cases and avert three million malaria-related deaths.
In this context, innovative financing will play an important role. The signs are encouraging: Over the last five years, an airline tax has raised over $2 billion, of which $1.2 billion has been invested in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria. Currently, six African countries are implementing the airline tax and 14 countries are in the pipeline. Besides 44 African ministers of health have been trained on an iPad application that has been launched by ALMA to enhance interactivity with ministers and enable a rapid response system to emerging crises in countries.
Other good news coming out of Africa is that 14 countries have hiked their domestic contribution to public health by more than two percent in times of the global slowdown.
There is still a long way to go in this ongoing battle against malaria, but the net gains would be astonishing: according to various estimates, Africa will add at least $300 billion to GDP if the disease is eliminated from the continent.