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By Dr Michael Adekunle Charles

09.02.24

What does football have to do with Malaria? A lot as it seems. This is what I found out when I visited the Ivory Coast to shine a light on the fight against the disease during the Africa Cup of Nations.

The tournament, hosted by Côte d’Ivoire, has been a chance to bring together icons from the worlds of sport, entertainment and civil society to raise awareness of the importance of ending malaria.

In a visit to Abidjan I was delighted to see that the RBM Partnership has such strong support and to be given the opportunity to call for action with Ministers, as well as to help visitors and people who live in the City understand the importance of preventative measures.

During the visit I had the privilege of meeting dignitaries such as Pierre N’Gou Dimba, Minister of Health and Public Hygiene of Côte d’Ivoire, Her Excellency Jessica Davis Ba, United States Ambassador to Ivory Coast, Benoit Verdeaux, First Counsel to the ambassador of France to Côte d’Ivoire, international artist Didi B and  Dr. Antoine Tanoh, Coordinator of the National Malaria Control Program.

I listened and learned from them about the situation in the country, the plans which are in place to tackle the ever growing threat of the disease, alongside the ways civil society citizens - especially young people - are hoping to scale up the work they are doing to improve the lives of those impacted.

During my time in Abidjan, we at RBM held a press conference where we were pleased to announce Didi B as one of our newest champions of the Zero Malaria FC team - a legacy football club which was launched on World Malaria Day last year, after Luís Figo and Khalilou Fadiga teamed up with us a to urge the international community to deliver on a malaria-free world. Football icons Jay-Jay Okocha and Kader Keita are also part of the team - which is a fantastic endorsement of the power of bringing  sporting and health communities together.

Malaria is a serious health problem in Côte d’Ivoire and ranks amongst the ten countries with the highest rates of malaria cases and deaths worldwide. Despite the efforts from the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene and the National Malaria Control Program, in 2020, Côte d’Ivoire accounted for 3.1% of global cases and 2.5% of global deaths. This is shocking and the lives being lost to this disease, as well as the devastating impact on families and communities is unnecessary.

What I was heartened to see though is the Partnerships which helped to bring this opportunity around. I was pleased to see RBM coming together with Speak Up Africa, Esprit d'Ebène and les Elus Locaux Contre le Paludisme in a joint effort which reached millions of people around the world through our respective platforms.

But it doesn’t stop there. The collaboration continues and I look forward to building out the Zero Malaria FC as well as connecting with people in other intersections of society such as music and art. 

As we approach the final, as a Nigerian person of course I wish good luck to my team. But I also wish good fortunes to Côte d'Ivoire, a country which has so graciously welcomed the RBM Partnership. I look forward to our continued engagement.

May the best team win - but most of all let us win in coming together in this mission to kick malaria out.

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