By Mourice Seretta
To keep the malaria fight alive and front of mind during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new team of global influencers are joining with youth champions behind the Zero Malaria Starts with Me campaign to inspire awareness and action this World Mosquito Day (August 20).
Against the backdrop of the global pandemic, leading athletes from Africa and beyond, including Kenyan world-record-holding marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge, World Cup-winning South African rugby captain Siya Kolisi, top female South African explorer Saray Khumalo, veteran international footballer Luis Figo, and founder of the first-ever Nigerian bobsled team Seun Adigun, are urging people to ‘see the bigger picture’ by tackling COVID-19 and malaria together to save more lives.
Malaria is one of the world’s oldest and deadliest diseases, transmitted by mosquitoes, which still kills an average of over 400,000 people annually – over 90 per cent of them in Africa. An estimated 228 million long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) were due to be delivered across Sub-Saharan Africa this year – more than ever before – but severe disruptions to life-saving net campaigns and limited access to antimalarial medicines as a result of COVID-19 could potentially result in a doubling of the number of malaria deaths in the region compared to 2018, according to recent modelling analyses by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Imperial College, London.
Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, says: “Malaria does not stop devastating lives during health emergencies and still kills a child every two minutes; indeed, experiences from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa show it can resurge in times of crisis with immediate and deadly consequences. COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in health systems around the world and, with lives at risk and resources increasingly stretched, long-term malaria investment alongside short-term COVID-19 response is essential, smart, and cost-effective.”
To shine a spotlight on the vital importance of sustaining malaria efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bigger Picture campaign, launching today, features Eliud Kipchoge, Siya Kolisi, Saray Khumalo, Luis Figo, and Seun Adigun.
The stars film themselves wearing a face mask whilst talking about the vital importance of tackling malaria and saving more lives during the pandemic, creating a striking image of both COVID-19 and malaria together – a visual representation of seeing the Bigger Picture.
Kenyan athlete and Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, the world’s fastest marathon runner, says: “As a marathon runner, there’s nothing more important than keeping focus. As a father there is nothing more important than protecting my children. With the fight against COVID-19 the world has been united, as one. Let us stay focused not just to fight COVID-19, but to fight Malaria as well. Let’s continue the fight for Zero Malaria – because no human is limited.”
South Africa’s World Cup winning Rugby Captain Siya Kolisi says: “It was so important to me that I lent my voice to the Zero Malaria campaign. Malaria is a huge problem on the continent, but it can be combated in my lifetime. It is for this reason that I am using my platform, in these times of uncertainty, to support the fight against this deadly disease, transforming the lives of Africa’s next generation.”
South African explorer Saray Khumalo, the first black African woman to reach the South Pole and summit Mount Everest, says: “I grew up experiencing malaria in DRC and Zambia, so I know how devastating this disease is. Ending malaria is a challenge, even more with COVID, but it is a surmountable challenge that we can rise to together. Let’s set our sights on reaching zero malaria!”
Veteran footballer Luis Figo, a champion of the Zero Malaria Starts with Me campaign, says: “Both COVID-19 and malaria are formidable opponents, and we must come together to tackle them at the same time and save more lives. As we fight COVID-19, we must not let our guard down against malaria, which strikes the poorest and the most vulnerable hardest. Zero malaria means no child should die unnecessarily from a preventable and treatable disease.”
Also launching the week of World Mosquito Day, Zero Malaria’s #MosquitoClapChallenge will comprise a series of short videos featuring influencers as well as malaria youth champions from across Africa to illustrate the importance of continuing to fight the world’s oldest and deadliest disease despite the challenges of COVID-19.
When mosquitos get in people’s faces, it is usually accompanied by a swat or a clap to shoo them away or to catch them. Zero Malaria have teamed up with international Afropop dancer and choreographer Ezinne Asinugo to turn this clap into an easy 5-step routine for anyone anywhere to share across social media platforms, including Instagram and TikTok.
The resulting film of collated entries from around the world will be released in lead up to the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, running from 15-30 September 2020, to encourage world leaders and key players to sustain their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic in the fight to end malaria.