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Anti-Malaria Campaign Kicks Off Prior to African Nations Cup

Anti-Malaria Campaign Kicks Off Prior to African Nations Cup

Africa's top football, or soccer, teams are in Angola for the kick-off Sunday of the African Nations Cup. A partnership of football stars, civic groups, corporations and public donors is taking advantage of the sport's popularity to launch a campaign against malaria which is a major killer in Africa.

The United Against Malaria Partnership has launched a major media campaign to fight the disease on the eve of the African Nations Cup in Angola.

A spokesman for the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, Herve Verhoosel, said the 30-second public service announcements feature football stars from African nations who urge viewers to use treated mosquito nets. "We will use the power of football to communicate on malaria prevention. When a player speaks on TV or on the radio or in the press, when the player says to the young children, 'Sleep under a bed net,' people are listening," he said.

Angola's national football association this week joined similar associations from Ivory Coast, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia and the United States in the anti-malaria group. Other members include the national teams of Mali and Tanzania and European Champions Barcelona of Spain.

Malaria is caused by a parasite that is transmitted through a certain type of mosquito. It kills some 850,000 people in Africa ever year. The illness also causes extensive loss of productivity because of its debilitating symptoms.

But Verhoosel says malaria can be prevented. "We have everything to prevent and to cure malaria and we still have a child dying from malaria every 30 seconds. What we need today is political leadership," he said.

He says football stars can also influence African leaders to focus greater resources on malaria.

The group wants to provide universal access to mosquito nets and anti-malaria medicine to people living in malaria zones by the end of this year. It says this is a first step toward the target of reducing deaths from malaria by 80 percent in five years.

The partnership, which is supported by international donors and corporate sponsors, plans to extend its campaign to South Africa in time for the football World Cup which kicks off in June.