It is said that a healthy nation is a wealthy nation, hence every country makes efforts to invest in the fight against diseases such as malaria that affects the health and productivity of its citizens.
Experts say that malaria kills a child every sixty seconds in Africa and worldwide; 655,000 people die of the disease every year.
Also, malaria increases healthcare costs, working days lost due to sickness and contributes to absenteeism and decreased productivity at the workplace.
Furthermore, it contributes to days lost to education by children who suffer from cerebral malaria, cause of death of mothers and their babies, and the birth of underweight babies when it attacks during pregnancy.
It has, therefore, become necessary that whatever gains have been made in the past years and in recent times should be improved upon through various advocacy strategies.
National Malaria Control Programme
This is why the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP), John Hopkins University Center for Communication Programmes (JHU-CCP) VOICES, the United Against Malaria (UAM) and other partners have engaged journalists in an effort to re-energize media support for malaria advocacy in the country.
The NMCP and the JHU-CCP in collaboration with the Ghana Football Association and the Ghana Media Malaria Advocacy Network (GMMAN) organized a forum for journalists, private sector and para-statal institutions, donor agencies and non governmental organizations on the subject of malaria.
The main purpose of the programme, which was held in Accra on Thursday was to improve upon the capacity of the media to enable them sustain media advocacy for malaria programming. The event was also used to launch the AFCON 2013 GOAL! Malaria Magazine, another malaria advocacy tool.
Speaking at the event, the Manager of NMCP, Dr. Mrs. Constance Bart-Plange said engaging the media and using football as a means of malaria advocacy tells the full story of malaria as a social and development issue that concerns all sectors of society.
According to her, "we are fully aware that it is a healthy malaria-free people who must play, watch and cheer football, a game which since the 2010 world cup in South Africa has become a partner tool in the fight against malaria."
She said the NMCP was directing its efforts towards energizing the media to increase its advocacy support for its programmes and actions in malaria management. Thus, she called on the media and all other partners to keep up their roles of providing and disseminating the required information that could "enhance our efforts to promote the adoption of the approved tools in preventing and treating this disease."
She said progress has been made in overcoming malaria in Ghana, hence the country have to press harder, and gather more speed to defeat the disease. She added that a total of 11,443,691
Long Lasting Insecticide Nets (LLINs) have been distributed, translating to about 86.6% of achievement in national household ownership of nets, she noted.
"That almost 90% of Ghanaian mothers of children under 5 years now know the cause of malaria and are able to identify the mosquito bite as being responsible for the disease is a positive move and taking the right step in preventing the disease and properly treating it. We are proud of this achievement" she emphasized.
To further sustain and improve upon these gains, she appealed to the media to be more responsible in reporting malaria and promoting all relevant control efforts on the one hand. On the other hand, she encouraged all members of the UAM partnership to step up their work place malaria-safe programmes and provide the media with appropriate information.
She expressed the hope that "this effort will sustain the presence of malaria in the news and encourage leadership in government, the private sector and the donor community to maintain and even improve their support for the provision of the required resources for the fight against malaria."
Ghana Media Malaria Advocacy Network
The Chairperson for the GMMAN, Ms. Rosemary Ardayfio said the event was necessary to enable media practitioners, particularly GMMAN members to improve their knowledge and capacity. This would ensure that journalists continue to provide advocacy for malaria control in Ghana.
Additionally, it would make journalists provide good coverage for malaria programmes and events while "making reports to promote positive efforts towards malaria elimination."
According to her, it has become necessary to share the necessary basic technical information on malaria control with participants and emphasize to them, the need for advocacy on the subject.
She appealed to her colleagues to strive to gain better understanding of the malaria programme environment, and the key partner institutions in order to improve accuracy in malaria reporting.
The Country Director of the JHU-CCP- VOICES, Mr. Emmanuel Fiagbey said it was important to target the media and equip them to help in the fight against malaria because they provide a most influential vehicle, and plays a key role in setting the political and social agenda in society.
He noted that the UAM's demand on the media is to strategically employ the art of news making to promote public debate and leadership decision making on an important subject like malaria.
It is also for the media to "Generate support for the implementation of the most appropriate actions required to overcome the challenges malaria poses to life and development", he added.
In his view, malaria deserves attention of the media because "it is a disease that daily threatens the lives of our children, born and unborn and their mothers as well as the workforce whose toils feed, clothe and house us."
Malaria contributes to reduction in internal mobility and damage to potential growth sectors of the economy such as tourism, and deters foreign and local investors from moving their capital around, he lamented.
He said countries with intensive malaria have 1.3% lower economic growth per year than other countries, adding, "in fact, it is estimated that Africa's GDP could be $100 billion higher today if malaria had been eliminated in the early 1960s."
Also, a 10% reduction in malaria cases is associated with 0.3% higher annual growth of the economy of any country, thus, "any expenditure made in malaria prevention today is an investment in development for tomorrow", he pointed out.
In view of this, the UAM partnership aims to build support for the universal access to mosquito nets and malaria medicine in Africa as a critical first step toward eliminating malaria deaths by 2015 using people's passion for football as a catalyst, he explained.
He said since the 2010 South African world cup, UAM has been engaging government leaders, private sector companies, public/parastatal institution, national football associations, coaches and individual football stars and the media to work towards achieving the UN target of halting and beginning to reverse malaria incidence by 2015.
He observed that in spite of the problems, progress was being made such that Rwanda, Zambia and Zanzibar have moved their control measures towards the status of elimination while others including Ghana "have stepped up prevention and treatment towards achieving the 2015 goals."
Thus, what was now required include generation of additional resources to sustain current and improved budgets, improved commitment of political and government leaders, and behaviour change on the part of families to ensure that they sleep in LLINs, among others.
This is why the partners were calling on the media to serve as the medium for mobilizing public opinion about emerging issues. The aim is to attract appropriate responses from country leaderships and the donor community.
He urged the media to ensure "exposition of abuses and misdeeds by health and other professional, pharmaceutical industry, politicians, senior civil servants and programme managers in managing resources meant for malaria."
On his part, the Vice President of the GFA, Mr. Fred Crentsil said the GFA's participation in the programme is recognition of how it has applied its corporate social responsibility to important non-football activities to improve the lives of Ghanaians at large.
He said the GFA can be described as a pioneer that set the pace for other football associations in Africa and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) itself to follow in committing to support malaria control activities on the continent.
He said during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the Black Stars were a special ambassador to the UAM partnership. Since then, "some individual footballers have carried out various activities in promoting malaria prevention in their communities and nation at large", he added.
He recalled that last year, CAF as a body declared the UAM as an official CAF social programme for the 2013 AFCON.
Thus, the President of CAF, Issa Hayatou stated in a letter to CAF members that, "for Africa to compete on the global football pitch, it must have players in communities that are free from malaria", Mr. Crentsil said.
According to him, the GFA buys into the commitment to use football as a vehicle to raise awareness about malaria and promote effective adoption of the approved preventive and treatment tools amongst footballers at all levels, their fans and their families.
"There is no excuse for a football to fail to perform at his maximum best because of malaria nor a family member or family member to fail to enjoy a game because of a malaria attack when we all know that sleeping under ITNs effectively prevents this disease", he stated.
Also, he called on all to pray for the success of the Black Stars because the more goals scored they score also means more goals against malaria. He pledged that "The GFA partnership with the UAM and its support for the NMCP will continue to grow from strength to strength."
Launching the GOAL Magazine, Professor Isabella Quakyi, of the Public School of Health of University of Ghana said the 3rd edition of the Goal magazine provides an interesting platform for disseminating important malaria control messages to all through as football focus.
According to her, the eight pages issue "is simply telling everyone 'if you love football then you must have the passion to fight malaria'."
Thus, she noted that the Orange Africa Cup of Nations edition of the GOAL Magazine is a special type of newspaper that all lovers of football, fathers, mothers and children should read. "It is a self teacher on malaria prevention and treatment which should engage the attention of everyone during the AFCON 2013 tournament and after", she stressed.