AHEAD of the official draw for the 2013 Orange Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), African football stars and heads of state have joined United Against Malaria, pledging to distribute life-saving malaria prevention and treatment messages throughout the tournament.
Heads of state including President Jakaya Kikwete, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, President Alassane Ouattara of Cote d'Ivoire and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda have joined football icons Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o and Steven Pienaar, along with African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) in lending their voices to the cause, appearing in television spots, billboards and educational materials that will be distributed across Africa.
"Across the continent, football dominates the hearts and minds of children and parents alike. But, so does malaria - the cause of 174 million illnesses and nearly 600,000 deaths in Africa alone every year," said Samuel Eto'o, Cameroonian national team player and UAM champion.
"We have united to utilize the power of football to fight malaria and we hope our fans will join us," added Eto'o. Although preventable and treatable, malaria kills a child in Africa every 60 seconds and costs the continent an estimated minimum of US $12 billion in lost productivity and healthcare costs each year.
"I have been a victim of malaria and have witnessed first-hand the devastating effects it can have on individuals and families," said Didier Drogba, Côte d'Ivoire national team captain and UAM champion.
"We need malaria out of the game. Using the popularity of football to increase awareness of prevention and treatment methods will go a long way in the fight to show malaria the red card."
By leveraging the popularity and excitement surrounding Africa's signature tournament, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and UAM are partnering to disseminate life-saving malaria messages through television and radio spots, in-stadium branding and local outreach to policy-makers and millions of fans across the continent.
"Malaria affects nearly everyone on the continent of Africa, including footballers and government leaders. With all eyes on the tournament and its participants, CAF and UAM are committed to utilizing this platform to communicate important messaging to end deaths from this devastating disease," said Mr Hicham El Amrani, secretary general of CAF.
Activities kicked off during tournament qualifying matches as President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf surprised football fans at the friendly game between Liberia and Ghana to cheer on her national team and congratulate them for their efforts to fight malaria.
"When we all fight malaria together, we build a stronger nations and save lives," said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. "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 Nigeria, Malawi, Benin, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania and other countries, malaria messages will be shared using football players, favourite teams and sports programmes.