January 3, 2012

In Africa, teams rise to the challenge

For the second consecutive year, national football teams participating in the Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) Tusker Challenge Cup partnered with United Against Malaria (UAM) to deliver critical messages about malaria prevention and treatment to thousands of fans across the region.

On the eve of the CECAFA Tusker Challenge Cup kick-off, UAM Tanzania director Anna McCartney-Melstad, on behalf of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs, named Mr. Leodegar Tenga an official ambassador to the campaign.

The CECAFA Tusker Challenge Cup football competition was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from November 25 through December 10. As many as 60,000 fans attended each of the CECAFA Tusker Challenge Cup’s 26 matches, and tens of thousands more viewed the action from home, offering UAM and CECAFA the perfect platform to disseminate important health messages to people living in endemic African countries.

CECAFA includes 12 countries, 10 of which competed in the tournament: Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zanzibar and guest teams Malawi and Zimbabwe. There are an estimated 38.9 million malaria cases in the CECAFA region alone and over 209,000 malaria deaths a year, comprising nearly a quarter of all cases on the continent.

“Our task is so simple,” said Mr. Leodegar Tenga, chairman of CECAFA, president of the Tanzania Football Federation, executive committee member of Confederation of African Football (CAF) and newly named official ambassador to UAM. “We can use football and our organizations as vehicles, as a platform for disseminating messages on how to fight malaria. It is a way for football to do its part. It’s a social responsibility.”

Throughout the tournament, UAM banners lined the pitch, ball boys and officials wore UAM t-shirts and jerseys, and a special edition UAM GOAL! magazine was distributed to spectators featuring simple but life-saving tips on how to prevent and treat malaria, such as sleeping under an insecticide-treating mosquito net every night.

During all CECAFA Tusker Challenge Cup 2011 matches, ball boys showed their support by sporting United Against Malaria jerseys.

In addition, during tournament events and press conferences, high-profile and influential UAM champions showed their support for the campaign by offering words of praise and promise to UAM, reiterating the importance of malaria prevention and treatment, and emphasizing the power of football to engage new audiences. Attending local and international sports journalists, some of whom have had malaria themselves, also played an important role, emphasizing the link between football and the burden of malaria through stories that were featured in print, television and radio outlets across the region.

Next year’s CECAFA Challenge Cup, Africa’s oldest football tournament, will be held in November in Kenya. UAM will continue to partner with CECAFA and leverage this popular tournament in order to raise awareness about malaria prevention and treatment until we can reach our goal of near zero malaria deaths.

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