The United Against Malaria (UAM) campaign achieved a new level of visibility when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia offered a ringing endorsement last month. Surprising fans at a football (soccer) game in Monrovia, she received a “Golden Boot,” UAM’s leadership award, for her role within the African Leaders Malaria Alliance.
“When we all fight malaria together, we build stronger nations and save lives,” she said in October as UAM and the Confederation of African Football issued a statement about their partnership. “As a football fan myself, I understand the game’s power and popularity. We have the tools to win against malaria, and I urge others to join us in the fight.”
In a public service announcement (PSA), she joined the presidents of Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Tanzania and Uganda as heads of state who support the UAM campaign.
Beyond political leaders, UAM has attracted famous and powerful sports celebrities, including major soccer stars Gervinho of Cote d’Ivoire and Joseph Yobo of Nigeria. Gervinho donated life-saving insecticide treated bednets and much needed school supplies to an orphanage, SOS Village, in Abidjan. Both stars have recorded PSAs for radio and TV with malaria messages in their respective countries.
“Having malaria as a top footballer can be a challenge to my career,” said Joseph Yobo, captain of the Nigerian team in a PSA to be broadcast ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in January. “This is why I make sure I and my family sleep under insecticide-treated nets to protect us from malaria.”
In East Africa, the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) has embraced UAM and assisted more than a dozen national football federations to develop malaria messages. In November, the CECAFA Senior Cup in Uganda will be dedicated to UAM for the third consecutive year, with UAM branding and malaria messages reaching millions of football fans throughout this malaria-endemic region, which is on track to begin work on pre-elimination of malaria.
Since 2009, UAM has united football teams, celebrities, health and advocacy organizations, governments and corporations to end malaria deaths by 2015. The goal: to catalyze global voices to build support for universal access to mosquito nets and malaria medicine in Africa.
In the past few months, JHU∙CCP’s Voices III: Malaria Powerbrokers has brought new champions to the UAM campaign, including some of Africa’s most recognizable footballers and heads of state. These “malaria powerbrokers,” along with private sector champions and ministry leaders, have used their influence to share malaria prevention and treatment messages with vulnerable populations across the continent. They have also called on African public and private sector leaders to contribute resources to the fight.
Such efforts have opened doors beyond the countries where Voices operates (Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda) and helped UAM expand its reach with limited resources.
As part of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, UAM is made up of over 200 partners from diverse sectors and continents who invest their experience, time, funds, skills and enthusiasm because they share a common goal. As the partnership grows and new champions emerge, Voices expects to see the malaria map shrink, resources increase, and many lives saved.