How sport is taking on Malaria
Sierra Leone Olympic athletes, Ibrahim Turay and Ola Sesay, recently sat down with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation in Stratford to discuss the unifying power of sport and malaria, one of the biggest killers of Sierra Leoneans. According to Ibrahim and Ola the same dedication and interfaith team work they have experienced through sport can be applied to ending malaria.
Just off the field, sporting their green, blue and white uniforms, 19 year old Sprinter, Ibrahim and 33 year old Long Jumper, Ola, embodied true Olympic spirit; they were determined, hopeful and above all else up for a challenge.
The two-strong team both expressed the urgent need for better education on malaria in Sierra Leone. Ola explained that people need to understand what the cause is before they can join it, “if they understand that, they will be more willing to collaborate and work together.”
A third of children who die under the age of five are killed by malaria in Sierra Leone. There are six million people living in the country and only 157 medical doctors, yet there are churches and mosques on every corner. The public health messaging potential of faith communities is therefore extensive. The Faith Foundation is harnessing the power and reach of existing Muslim and Christian faith networks in the country to disseminate simple but life saving malaria prevention messages.
Ibrahim recognised the work different faith communities have been doing in Sierra Leone in recent years: “Faith communities have helped youths in particular to build stronger relationships and work together to do something positive for the nation.”
Indeed the malaria health messaging and prevention programme has been embraced by people of all ages and backgrounds throughout Sierra Leone.
To date, 234 faith leaders have volunteered and have been trained by the Faith Foundation’s Faiths Act in Sierra Leone project and are now spearheading this malaria education throughout the country. These leaders have trained over 6,300 members of their congregations who have in turn visited over 120, 000 households and reached 800, 000 individuals with these key malaria prevention messages.
5 key messages:
- Sleeping under insecticide treated nets every night
- Clearing the surroundings of rubbish and mosquito breeding sites
- Encouraging pregnant women to attend antenatal care and take intermittent preventive treatment
- Recognising signs and symptoms of malaria to get medical treatment quickly
- Making sure treatment is taken as a full dose
Reverend Christiana Sutton-Koroma, a leading contributor to the Faiths Act in Sierra Leone initiative told us:
“Faiths Act in Sierra Leone is raising awareness and bringing about change in the communities behaviour. For me, it is an eye opener creating more opportunities to educate the community on the importance of using a bed net.
“Before my family was not using the net properly and now, it has been a long time since my children, husband and I have been ill.”
It is clear that Olympians are able to see beyond difference in nationality, appearance, and religion and come together in common competition. “At the end of the day we are all human,” said Ola. But amidst the competition, the athletes will also learn from one another and form friendships which will outlive the London Olympic 2012 Games.
As the world watches Ibrahim and Ola represent Sierra Leone in the Olympics let’s hope it is also remembered that there is another challenge yet to be surmounted.
The interview ended on a very optimistic note. Ola dismissed claims that eliminating malaria is an impossible goal. She sees herself as living proof that proof that anything is possible:
“This is my first Olympics and I am 33 years old. I never thought that I would get where I am today. If you are passionate then you can accomplish anything,” She said.