With great success often comes a heightened sense of social responsibility, and celebrities are often uniquely equipped to make a meaningful difference. While it has become something of a cliché for the rich and famous to champion a cause célèbre, there is nevertheless something heartening about these philanthropic endeavours; after all, any semblance of altruism is preferable to the apathy into which we are so often collectively lulled.
David Beckham declared war on malaria last week, championing a new global campaign – ‘Malaria Must Die, So Millions Can Live’ – in a bid to heighten global awareness about the epidemic. The retired football hero features in an unsettling, minute-long video, which relates some of the grim statistics pertaining to the disease: Beckham looks on as a swarm of mosquitoes accumulates on the surface of the glass-walled box by which he is protected. In spite of its apparent simplicity, the short film is a powerful statement about the ways in which privilege insulates one from exposure. In spite of the fact that it is both preventable and treatable, almost 450,000 people die of malaria every year; pregnant women and children under five are the most susceptible to infection.
Every two minutes a child dies from malaria and progress on ending the disease is stalling. We have to act now. Help us get the attention of world leaders by watching and sharing this message from David Beckham.
The Malaria Must Die campaign is calling on Commonwealth leaders – who will be meeting in London for the biennial CHOGM in April – to prioritise the resolution of this ongoing scourge: a great number of affected countries are, after all, part of the Commonwealth.
While both private and government-led initiatives have successfully introduced and implemented solutions in affected regions in the past, support for this issue has petered out in the past few years, with a corresponding decline in the requisite funding. The campaign’s underlying hope seems to be that Beckham’s involvement will reinvigorate public (and corporate) interest in eradicating malaria, once and for all.
In the interim, though, the campaign is being endorsed by a worldwide network of anti-malaria organisations, including Yvonne Chaka-Chaka’s Princess of Africa Foundation and Johannesburg-based Goodbye Malaria, which promotes creative, localised approaches to awareness-building and prevention. CEO and founder, Sherwin Charles, has been instrumental in the crusade to eradicate malaria in Southern Africa; but while he concedes that significant strides have been made thus far, he is concerned about the recent surge in reported cases: “South Africa has been working very hard at eliminating malaria over the past 15 years, and good progress has been made,” says Charles. “However, we have come into a rainy season this year that has created an upsurge in the number of cases of malaria. This outbreak has been way more severe than we had expected.” Aside from the fact that human lives are at stake, Charles urges South Africans to consider the bigger picture, as well: “It’s not the biggest problem the government has: HIV and AIDS is obviously a much greater challenge to our health department; but I think we can get rid of a disease in our country. Malaria obviously has a massive impact on our tourism industry – we see it now in the Kruger Park, Mpumalanga, and the Limpopo area.”
So how does Beckham’s involvement help? “David Beckham is a Global icon that is recognisable in the Commonwealth countries, and who has an impressive social media presence,” explains Charles. “Most importantly, he is committed to the eradication of malaria. The aim of this campaign is to cut through to global publics and build support for bold political action starting in 2018. We need to ensure that our message is heard loud and clear: leaders need to act now to end Malaria for good."