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 when we joined forces to support the launch of Malaria No More UK.
A lot has happened since then — we have won trophies, celebrated Olympics and grown our families. But it’s in the fight against malaria where most has changed — since the year 2000, child deaths from this illness have been slashed by more than 60%. That’s amazing progress and proof that the United Kingdom’s generosity when it comes to giving aid makes a real difference to real lives. We have a lot to be proud of.
As a Unicef goodwill ambassador, I have seen first-hand the devastating, life-shattering effect malaria can have for families in Sierra Leone and South Africa — 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 have been infected by a single, stoppable bite must be unbelievably stressful. And at the heart of that worry is a disease that’s preventable and costs less than a cup of tea to treat.
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 — like an opponent that watches and learns, malaria comes back stronger if you take your eye off the ball.
I was worried by the news at the end of last year — for the first time in many years, 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. Mosquito 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.
That’s why I joined forces with Ridley Scott’s team to create a film to launch a new global malaria campaign. We want to show how an insect that we often consider annoying, the mosquito, is still the deadliest creature on Earth, taking about half a million lives a year. It is terrifying being surrounded by something that could end a life with just one tiny bite.
I think the team have done an impressive job to bring that threat home along with the positive message that 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. Let that fact sink in. But by acting now we have within our reach the ability to end this disease.
Malaria is more than just a killer, it also disables. In many parts of Africa, it stops children from going to school and cuts people’s salaries by about 25% — and 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. Every £1 invested in fighting malaria gives back £36 to communities and economies. That’s a remarkable return.
In two months’ time, 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 need as many voices as possible to come together and you and I can make a difference right now — and all it’ll cost you is 30 seconds of your time.
To add your voice please visit malariamustdie.org to share and declare that you want malaria to die so millions can live.
David Beckham is a global ambassador for the Malaria Must Die awareness campaign