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Working to be a model citizen " ... it's not about how much you have or how big you are; it's about what you do.... United, we can end malaria.".

GROWING UP in Murray, Ky., I never tucked in at night with a fear of sleeping safely. However, thousands of other children are not so fortunate. Every 30 seconds, a child dies of malaria, a disease transmitted by the bite of a mosquito. Malaria is characterized by recurrent symptoms of chills, fever, and an enlarged spleen, but it is preventable and treatable, although it continues to afflict the continent of Africa. Actually, the figures are staggering. Half of the world population is at risk of the disease. There are nearly 1,000,000 malaria deaths each year and 85% of those are children under five years of age. The devastation does not stop at loss of human life. Malaria costs Africa billions of dollars each year in direct losses and, in some countries, where it is more prevalent the disease accounts for up to 40% of public health expenditures.

To keep this disease top of mind, I joined United Against Malaria, a global campaign that taps into the power of soccer, the most popular sport in the world, as a platform for raising awareness and supporting the fight against malaria. At first glance, soccer and malaria may seem like an unusual match but, in my travels throughout Europe for modeling shoots, I have seen the power of "The Beautiful Game," and quickly became a fan of the sport. The energy that builds in a stadium during an important match is intoxicating. I cannot think of a more effective communication vehicle.

I first got involved in United Against Malaria after traveling to Haiti as an ambassador for one of the campaign's founding partners, Population Services International--a global health organization operating in more than 65 countries. PSI long has been committed to supporting malaria control--the organization has delivered more than 21,000,000 malaria treatments to people in endemic countries and will distribute its 100,000,000th mosquito net this year.

While I was in Haiti, I witnessed firsthand the devastating impact malaria is having on local communities. I found a special connection with one youngster in particular, Minoushka. Abandoned by her parents as a young child, this 14-year-old was painfully shy and weeping uncontrollably when we first met. I spoke with her and other children about the health issues they face. Some spent nights sleeping on the streets. One recurring concern was malaria--many had lost a family member or friend to the disease. One child had witnessed her mother, sister, and neighbor all pass away.

Before leaving Haiti, our team gave Minoushka a mosquito net and educated her on its proper use, empowering her to take charge of her own health and safety. The meshing is treated with insecticide and designed to hang over a bed, offering much-needed protection. This simple $10 tool will ensure Minoushka sleeps safely for up to five years--that is a pretty good investment.

I now know that the thicker your passport, the deeper your knowledge. I have been so blessed to travel extensively for work, experiencing various cultures and meeting people from all walks of life. I vowed that, when I returned stateside, I would bring the voice of Minoushka and thousands of other children to a global audience. The cost to control this deadly disease may seem daunting, but the cost of not controlling it is worse. There are any number of measures that are working: mosquito nets, medicines, and spraying are saving lives. Concentrated efforts have reduced malaria deaths by more than 50% in Eritrea, Rwanda, and Zambia. The return we gain from these investments could prove incredible, but if we really are to solve this global health issue, we must continue to fight together.

United Against Malaria marries unlikely partners around the globe--soccer stars and students, civil servants and celebrities, bishops and businesses, pop stars and politicians, and communities and corporations. Alone, each merely has one voice but, together, form a resounding chorus of support.

This year, as the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup is being held on African soil for the first time-the tournament's championship game is slated to take place July 11 in South Africa--United Against Malaria is determined to make this global sporting event about a whole lot more than just soccer. Millions of fans are tuning in to watch the month-long World Cup. Imagine if each donated a life-saving mosquito net? Big or small, everyone can make a difference. United Against Malaria gives each of us a chance to get involved. Since the campaign's launch in 2009, supporters have engaged in various public activities to build our global team.

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In November, Charles Ssali, a 12 year-old Ugandan soccer star, malaria survivor, and global ambassador for United Against Malaria, traveled the world to launch the campaign and raise awareness. Ssali's journey began with an event in his native Uganda, followed by Ethiopia, the U.S., Belgium, and South Africa. Along the way, he garnered signatures from various country leaders on a United Against Malaria soccer ball, signifying they too were uniting with us in our efforts. Since Ssali's trip, our list of supporters has grown exponentially. National soccer federations and associations in Angola, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia have joined the campaign, along with Ireland and the U.S. Leading soccer stars across the globe have lent their voices through filmed public service announcements.

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CECAFA, the Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations, which counts Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Zanzibar, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, and Djibouti as members, has committed to using its influence to reduce the impact of malaria. CECAFA also pledged to ensure its players are protected from the disease.

In Africa where the need is great, so too is the tremendous amount of activity my fellow United Against Malaria partners are undertaking to unite people against this disease. Similar to "Big Brother" in the U.S., the hit television program "Big Brother Africa Revolution" featured United Against Malaria, tasking housemates with activities that would highlight the need and importance of malaria prevention, including installing, mending, and sleeping under mosquito nets.

Many African companies are grappling with the challenge of protecting employees and their families. SSB Flour Mill, based in Dares Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, estimates that 25%--an astonishing number--of staff miss at least one day a month due to this parasitic disease. In order to help tackle the disease, United Against Malaria businesses have launched new initiatives such as the "malaria safe" workplace, where all employees are provided with preventive tools, education, and malaria medicines.

A jewelry designer myself, one corporate initiative that particularly is exciting for me is the United Against Malaria bracelet campaign. More than a string of beads, the campaign bracelet literally is a lifeline. Not only does the bracelet promote a social business model, generating income for independent workers in Cape Town, proceeds help purchase lifesaving mosquito nets for those all across Africa who cannot afford to buy their own. I wear the bracelet alongside my own collection pieces, a daily reminder that I can help play a role in ensuring all of the world's children are safe and secure.

In the lead-up to World Malaria Day this past April, students around the globe participated in a "Sleep Out to End Malaria," a symbolic nod to those who do not sleep safely at night (most mosquito bites happen in the evening). In Cameroon, where malaria remains the primary cause of illness and death, supporters held parades to draw attention to the cause in Yaounde, Garoua, Douala, and Bamenda. Participants included government and corporate leaders, soccer stars, and members of health organizations.

In Zambia, a soccer tournament was held in Lusaka where senior public figures, including a Health Minister, played against a group of national team veterans.

In Northern Uganda, United Against Malaria partner Lalela Project hosted art workshops at the Paicho Internally Displaced Persons Camp. Under the shade of huge mango trees, young students decorated soccer pennants with malaria prevention messages such as "I vow to sleep under a mosquito net" and "Yes, I promise."

In Ghana, the organization's partners assembled a massive mosquito net at the summit of one of the country's largest roadway interchanges, representing the need for a "giant" response to such a great national killer.

In Tanzania, they hosted tournaments for teenage soccer players. Nearly 1,000 people attended the matches, sporting campaign jerseys and banners. Pres. Jakaya Kikwete presented the winners with the coveted Malaria Haikubaliki Cup.

African explorer Kingsley Holgate led an expedition across the continent to raise awareness and distribute mosquito nets at soccer themed events. Moreover, in May, United Against Malaria and African Leaders Malaria Alliance hosted a joint panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Tanzania to reinforce the importance of the World Cup in delivering a lasting legacy in the fight against malaria. Panelists included a President, a pop star, an Olympic gold medalist, and two CEOs. Forum attendees also visited Uhuru Girls Primary School in Dares Salaam, where sports are being used to educate and empower young people. South African songstress and United Against Malaria supporter, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, spoke with the girls about the dangers of malaria and also performed a few tunes.

So many people, so many places, and so many activities--all focused on uniting against this deadly disease. The need is great, especially in Africa, but we in the U.S. also are taking a stand against malaria. United Against Malaria is partnering with youth soccer tournaments across our nation this summer, teaching young soccer fans and families how they can be heroes in this ongoing battle. From youth to professional, we also are partnering with Major League Soccer teams to host "Title Nights" at soccer matches all over the country, increasing awareness through in-stadium campaign branding and malaria literature. In addition, I, along with Major League Soccer stars, handed more than 20,000 United Against Malaria signatures of support from U.S. citizens to members of Congress, urging continued leadership in the fight against this disease.

We are so proud, excited, and encouraged that supporters from all over the world have logged on to our website to sign our virtual soccer ball, post blog entries, and join our growing team. Global leaders--including presidents, ministers of health, and other dignitaries--have initialed the United Against Malaria campaign soccer ball as a sign of dedication and unity. The list of supporters goes on and on.

Our great fight against malaria will continue, but together the burden is lighter. Malaria is a cause we can unite against--now. Growing up, my mother always told me that it's not about how much you have or how big you are; it's about what you do. I hope all of you reading this story will join me in this cause--united, we can end malaria.

Molly Sims is an actress, model, fashion designer, and ambassador for Population Services International, a global health organization with programs targeting malaria, child survival, HIV, and reproductive health.
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Title Annotation:Medicine & Health; United Against Malaria
Author:Sims, Molly
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Travel narrative
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jul 1, 2010
Words:1833
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