Magazine article USA TODAY

Working to Be a Model Citizen " ... It's Not about How Much You Have or How Big You Are; It's about What You Do. United, We Can End Malaria."

Magazine article USA TODAY

Working to Be a Model Citizen " ... It's Not about How Much You Have or How Big You Are; It's about What You Do. United, We Can End Malaria."

Article excerpt

GROWING UP in Murray, Ky., I never tucked in at night with a fear of sleeping safely. However, thousands of other children are not so fortunate. Every 30 seconds, a child dies of malaria, a disease transmitted by the bite of a mosquito. Malaria is characterized by recurrent symptoms of chills, fever, and an enlarged spleen, but it is preventable and treatable, although it continues to afflict the continent of Africa. Actually, the figures are staggering. Half of the world population is at risk of the disease. There are nearly 1,000,000 malaria deaths each year and 85% of those are children under five years of age. The devastation does not stop at loss of human life. Malaria costs Africa billions of dollars each year in direct losses and, in some countries, where it is more prevalent the disease accounts for up to 40% of public health expenditures.

To keep this disease top of mind, I joined United Against Malaria, a global campaign that taps into the power of soccer, the most popular sport in the world, as a platform for raising awareness and supporting the fight against malaria. At first glance, soccer and malaria may seem like an unusual match but, in my travels throughout Europe for modeling shoots, I have seen the power of "The Beautiful Game," and quickly became a fan of the sport. The energy that builds in a stadium during an important match is intoxicating. I cannot think of a more effective communication vehicle.

I first got involved in United Against Malaria after traveling to Haiti as an ambassador for one of the campaign's founding partners, Population Services International--a global health organization operating in more than 65 countries. PSI long has been committed to supporting malaria control--the organization has delivered more than 21,000,000 malaria treatments to people in endemic countries and will distribute its 100,000,000th mosquito net this year.

While I was in Haiti, I witnessed firsthand the devastating impact malaria is having on local communities. I found a special connection with one youngster in particular, Minoushka. Abandoned by her parents as a young child, this 14-year-old was painfully shy and weeping uncontrollably when we first met. I spoke with her and other children about the health issues they face. Some spent nights sleeping on the streets. One recurring concern was malaria--many had lost a family member or friend to the disease. One child had witnessed her mother, sister, and neighbor all pass away.

Before leaving Haiti, our team gave Minoushka a mosquito net and educated her on its proper use, empowering her to take charge of her own health and safety. The meshing is treated with insecticide and designed to hang over a bed, offering much-needed protection. This simple $10 tool will ensure Minoushka sleeps safely for up to five years--that is a pretty good investment.

I now know that the thicker your passport, the deeper your knowledge. I have been so blessed to travel extensively for work, experiencing various cultures and meeting people from all walks of life. I vowed that, when I returned stateside, I would bring the voice of Minoushka and thousands of other children to a global audience. The cost to control this deadly disease may seem daunting, but the cost of not controlling it is worse. There are any number of measures that are working: mosquito nets, medicines, and spraying are saving lives. Concentrated efforts have reduced malaria deaths by more than 50% in Eritrea, Rwanda, and Zambia. The return we gain from these investments could prove incredible, but if we really are to solve this global health issue, we must continue to fight together.

United Against Malaria marries unlikely partners around the globe--soccer stars and students, civil servants and celebrities, bishops and businesses, pop stars and politicians, and communities and corporations. Alone, each merely has one voice but, together, form a resounding chorus of support. …

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