Malaria is capturing the public imagination, bringing a range of new partners that would have seemed unthinkable only a few years ago.
In the last year, tens of thousands Americans — from elementary school students to Fortune 500 companies — have donated money for lifesaving bed nets through the Nothing But Nets and Malaria No More campaigns; American Idol educated 27 million viewers about the disease through its Idol Gives Back charity special; Major League Soccer, the NBA, and the WNBA have joined the ranks, naming malaria as a key public cause; faith groups like the United Methodist Church and Saddleback Church have carried the message to their congregations, in America and around the world.
I caught up with Major League Soccer star Diego Gutierrez, a midfielder for the Chicago Fire and panelist on the “New Partners” session here at the Gates Malaria Forum, to discuss the work he and his wife Ginna are doing to spread the word about malaria through the Nothing But Nets campaign.
What attracted you to this cause Diego?
The sheer numbers of mortalities grabbed my attention. I was challenged by a friend to read some literature and become educated about the subject. After doing so, I couldn’t not act. I want to utilize my platform as a professional athlete to get the message out there. I decided to get involved and get the league involved.
What response do you get when you talk to people about malaria?
We’re seeing unbelievable response from multinational companies down to elementary schools; at every level the response has been phenomenal. It’s a simple message and a profound message that with so little money you can actually save lives. It’s very appealing to the American public and to all age groups. It’s a message not too hard to sell.
On the panel you talked about a particularly inspiring rally in North Carolina?
North Carolina was an incredible experience. We were speaking to youth, an audience 10,000 strong. We challenged them by holding up a $10 bill and asking them to match our donations. People were literally wadding up their bills and throwing them at the stage. In the matter of 2 minutes we raised $15,000.
What does it mean “to think in bed net dollars”?
It was something that my friend told me would eventually happen. I didn’t understand it at first. It means that once you start collecting money and raising funds for this campaign, understanding that $10 saves a life, it changes your perspective, your outlook on life. I used to like to indulge in little things. Now when you go out to buy a CD or a Starbucks you think that $10 can be used to save a life.
What can public do, right now, to help end malaria?
They can log on and educate and inform themselves about what really is happening, especially in Africa—a child dying every 30 seconds. Go to www. NothingButNets.net, get the information and donate $10 to help.
-Martin Edlund, Malaria No More
Tuesday to Thursday this week, Malaria No More’s Martin Edlund is live blogging on the ONE Blog from the Gates Foundation’s Malaria Forum in Seattle. Malaria No More’s mission is simple: no more deaths from malaria. Learn more and help prevent a million child deaths this year by donating a $10 bed net at www.MalariaNoMore.org.