Players kick off World Cup anti-malaria fight

Sat Oct 17, 2009 6:53pm EDT
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By Katie Reid

ZURICH (Reuters) - Footballers are teaming up with governments, companies and international health campaigners to push for action against malaria ahead of next year's World Cup finals in South Africa.

The "United Against Malaria" campaign, which will start next month and run until the end of the World Cup, has won the backing of singer Bono, actress Ashley Judd and philanthropist Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill.

Players such as U.S. captain Landon Donovan and the Ivory Coast team have already said they are behind the campaign, while other prominent footballers backing the movement will be revealed when the campaign is officially launched.

Malaria, which spreads through the bites from infected mosquitoes, kills nearly one million people a year, almost all in Africa where a child dies from the disease every 30 seconds.

The United Nations is trying to get universal access to diagnostic tests, mosquito nets and malaria medicine as part of its bid to cut the number of deaths to zero by 2015.

"Malaria is a disease that you have at household level. You use football to bring messages on prevention measures or how to treat people," Awa Marie Coll-Seck, executive director of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, told Reuters on Saturday.

"This will reach them as they will watch everything on football and if messages are linked to that it will be a very important vehicle for information for us," she said on the sidelines of FIFA's medical conference in Zurich.

The Roll Back Malaria Partnership comprises UN agencies, the World Bank, leading drug makers and aid experts.   Continued...

<p>Costa Rica's Cristian Montero (L) battles for the ball against Landon Donovan of the U.S. during the second half of their 2010 World Cup qualifying soccer match at RFK Stadium in Washington, October 14, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young</p>