Essien's greatest goal: victory over malaria
The Fight Football star Michael Essien speaks on his experience with Malaria and the steps needed to combat the disease.
What was it like growing up in an area where malaria is endemic?
ME: Malaria is one of the biggest killers in our part of the world. Ordinarily if you are ill with malaria, you will be given a week’s course of malaria medication and that should do it but lots of people die from it because they don’t have access to medication or hospitals and clinics. It's really tough on ordinary people who can’t afford to prevent or treat it.
Malaria is an unfamiliar disease in the UK. How did it affect you?
ME: I totally agree that in the UK malaria is not a familiar disease but in Ghana it is common, like you have colds and flu here. Having said that, regardless of where you are, if it is not treated quickly it could have deadly consequences as was the case with me. I had malaria at a time when I was suffering with measles and my mum had to get help for me quickly. I was young then and if I hadn’t received the help required, who knows what could have happened.
The global fight against malaria has come a long way, but what more can be done?
ME: A lot has been done but more still needs to happen to ensure we can rid the world of malaria. I believe prevention is better than cure so if we can help people prevent it, then that’s a good start. Education is also important and more needs to go into that as well. People need to understand what they can do to prevent malaria and the type of help to seek as soon as the symptoms develop to stop it getting worse. Finally I think all the good work being done by governments and individuals like Bill Gates is commendable and more people should get involved to help the fight against malaria.
What steps can developing countries take in order to help eliminate the disease and support those living in malaria-stricken communities?
ME: As I have already stated, teaching the people how to prevent it, what to do when they have the symptoms, and also encouraging basic sanitation are all important steps. Good sanitation is important to stop malaria from starting in the first place and both governments and individuals need to play their part. It will not happen overnight and we need to be patient but like all diseases we can fight and hopefully eradicate it. Hopefully we will be supported in the near future with a vaccine which will be a game changer to use a footballing term.
As a symbol of hope and aspiration, how do you think your experience can make a difference?
ME: Having suffered malaria myself and knowing the consequences for other families, I try to help where I can by supporting initiatives such as this one. The Michael Essien Foundation has helped build toilets and water facilities in my hometown to improve sanitation. In addition Health Africa International which is an arm of the Michael Essien Foundation is making inroads on the educational front. We are concentrating on Ebola at the moment with the #UnitedAgstEbola campaign and we aim to extend it to malaria in future.