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WINNING THE WAR AGAINST MALARIA

By NBF News
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Across the world, Africa suffers most from killer, yet preventable diseases plaguing the world. Diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, polio, meningitis, malaria are collectively responsible for the death of millions of Africans, annually, especially women and children. United Nations statistics reveals that malaria kills more than one million people worldwide of which 90 percent is in Africa with 70 percent being children below age five.

When the statistics are analyzed further, Malaria kills on average, a child every 30 seconds in Africa.

In 1998, UNICEF, in partnership with the World Bank and UNDP, another agency of the United Nations, launched the Roll Back Malaria Initiative in a bid to fight the scourge globally.

In Nigeria, the Federal Government joined the rest of the continent and indeed the world to launch the Roll Back Malaria Initiative and unveiled the biggest mosquito net in the world, which even got a space in the Guinness Book of World Records. Insecticide-treated mosquito nets were given free of charge to women in government hospitals. Pregnant women were also administered with prophylactic anti-malarial drugs to prevent them from having the disease and people were tutored on healthy practices to avoid malaria infection.

The Roll Back Malaria logo, a picture of a young man kicking a football which represented malaria was on every health care establishment. The FIFA World Cup is the biggest tournament in the world with huge followership and interest. It is the one single event that unites people of all tribes and races. Without doubt, we can say that the world becomes one single country of one single race during every World Cup tournament, and they speak one language, football.

For the first time in the history of the game, it will be, in a few weeks away, played on African soil, the same continent that records the highest number of malaria related mortalities. What better opportunity does the continent have then than to use this great movement as the world converges in Africa as yet another platform to galvanize the world to help curtail the disease?

In recognition of this fact, advocacy groups around the world partnered with the world football governing body, FIFA to establish the United Against Malaria (UAM) expedition to combat the prevalence of malaria, using the tournament as a platform to create awareness for the epidemic, spread the prevention message and distribute insecticide treated mosquito nets to help eliminate malaria in Africa by 2015.

The UAM expedition will use soccer-themed events to make the message more pervasive and acceptable by the people. A scroll endorsed by football stars carrying the UAM message will be taken to 12 countries across the continent before it is taken to South Africa ahead of the opening ceremony of the World Cup.

Telecommunications giant and sponsor of the World Cup, MTN is also partnering with the United Against Malaria expedition to completely eradicate malaria in Africa by the year 2015. The company aims to distribute one million insecticide-treated mosquito nets and this it did successfully using the yearly staff volunteer scheme tagged '21 Days of Y'ello Care'. Instinctively, this year, the theme of the annual event was Eradicate and Educate.

The 21 Days of Y'ello Care programme, which was first introduced in 2007 enjoins staff of MTN to volunteer their time for community service without neglecting their own official duties. Members of staff could decide to use their lunch breaks to mentor students, give health and hygiene talks to bus drivers and their conductors, clean drainages, plant trees, distribute mosquito nets to malaria prone communities, etc. They could also visit orphanage homes and hospices on weekends which some of them do with members of their families, coach a high school soccer team or spend quality time with senior citizens at the old people's home and so on.

Football being a powerful tool, the company also joined the global campaign for Education for All by also supporting the 1Goal Campaign. The 1Goal campaign is a call to support the government to attain the Education for All commitment by providing quality education for children and adults alike and it has ambassadors like Austin J.J Okocha, championing the cause.

For the 2010 edition of the programme, the tone for the next 21 days was set when Nollywood celebrities including the famous duo of Osita Iheme and Chinedu Ikedieze popularly known as Aki & Pawpaw, Saint Obi and Nigerian football legends led by Ike Shorunmu and Friday Elaho symbolically kicked out malaria in Nigeria together with the CEO of MTN, Mr. Ahmad Farroukh and other MTN executives. Members of staff carried out this years' programme under two teams in line with the UAM and 1Goal Campaigns; Team Eradicate and Team Educate. Since after the formal kick-off of the programme May 1, both teams touched a number of communities by giving talks on malaria prevention and creating awareness on the epidemic and distributing mosquito nets, mentoring and educating young children among other activities.

While commending the effort of the company, some of the stars who are also passionate about the UAM campaign urged everyone to be part of the global campaign to eradicate malaria from our continent. According to Chinedu Ikedieze, 'all hands should be on deck to kick this plague out of our land because malaria is a mass killer and I am willing and ready to be counted as one of the people who participate in this campaign'.

So far, the Y'ello Care programme, which takes place simultaneously in all 21 operating countries of MTN Group has impacted the lives of people country-wide. Traditionally held in June, this year's version held in the month of May and all activities were geared towards scoring goals with teams UAM and 1Goal vis-à-vis Eradicate and Educate.

Orphanages, riverine communities, schools, correctional homes, prisons, villages, churches, motor-parks and garages, military barracks, mosques, higher institutions, estates, market places, gardens and parks and every nook and cranny of the community were impacted by the Eradicate and Educate teams in a determined fight to kick malaria out of Africa.

Malaria kills infants, children and adults alike by the minute. MTN Group deserves commendation for its efforts in using the platform of the global football event, the World Cup, to draw attention to the scourge, plight of victims and preventive approaches. The company also deserves commendation for its effort at distributing insecticide-treated mosquito nets across the continent. But the task of eradicating malaria, if it is to be truly successful would demand a mass attack (to borrow the football lingo). The rest of Africa must join hands with corporations like MTN to spread education, knowledge and support pertaining to malaria eradication, to communities across Africa.

With a mass attack of this nature, and corporate like MTN leading the way as strikers, no doubt malaria may well be n the way to being kicked-out of Africa for good.

1, Rainbow Drive, Peace Estate, Oregun, Ikeja.