The day I first got involved in the fight to end one of the world’s oldest diseases, the best part of a decade ago, isn’t something I’ll forget in a hurry. Playing tennis at Wembley Stadium over the world’s longest mosquito net doesn’t happen every day and when it’s against a fresh faced young talent called Andy Murray, it tends to stick in the mind.
That was our first meeting as we joined forces for a malaria free world. A lot’s happened since then – we’ve won trophies, celebrated Olympics and grown our families!
As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, I’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact the disease can have for families: parents who have lost their children, the greatest pain, and it could have been prevented. As a father, I just can’t imagine living with the knowledge that your child could catch a deadly disease overnight.
The reality of putting your son or daughter to bed knowing that when they wake up they could be infected because of a single, stoppable bite must be unbelievably stressful. I’m reminded of thousands of children in India, where the fight against malaria is at its peak.
For a country, with 1.2 billion people, to put up such a spirited fight is commendable. India has a lot to be proud of, but there is still more to do.
Success takes hard work and commitment. With football, I always pushed myself, never wanting to take my talent for granted. The fight against malaria is similar as just like an opponent that watches and learns, malaria also comes back stronger if you take your eye off the ball.
I was worried by the news at the end of 2017 – for the first time in many years, global progress to save lives from malaria stalled, and deaths looked to be rising again. It’s a wake-up call that we can’t be complacent and it’s vital that the fight continues. Nets still play an important role and we need to advance our tactics, test, treat and track the disease and find new ways to kick it out.
Malaria is more than just a killer, it also disables. In India and many other parts of the world, it stops kids from going to school and leads to a loss in people’s wages – often it’s the poorest who are most affected. Beating malaria will not only save millions of lives, it’s a no brainer on the financial front too. Past research says that every rupee India invested in fighting malaria gave Rs 19.70 back to communities and economies. That’s a huge return.
In 70 days, 51 world leaders will arrive in London for a Commonwealth Summit hosted by the UK. With 90% of Commonwealth citizens living in countries affected by malaria, these leaders have an incredible chance to lead the way, change the course of history and save millions of lives by uniting to fight malaria.
I am proud to be attending what I hope will be the biggest malaria event of the decade. We can beat malaria – our oldest and deadliest enemy which some experts say has killed up to half of all people who have ever lived.
Just let that sink in – by acting now we have within our reach the ability to end a disease that some say has taken half the people who have ever lived.