01/25/2013 01:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Striker Against Malaria

I'm proud of my career. As striker I took my team, Chelsea Football Club, to victory in the 2012 UEFA Champions League, and before that we won the Premier League three times. When I'm on my game, I can run, pass, and score faster than almost anyone.

But not long ago a completely preventable disease knocked me off my game and threatened my career. I missed games and couldn't play for two whole months -- all from a simple mosquito bite that left me with malaria.

And I'm not alone. Not by a long shot.

Malaria is the cause of 174 million illnesses and nearly 600,000 deaths in Africa alone every year. It kills mostly women and children under 5 years old. In fact, it kills a child in Africa every 60 seconds. Yes, malaria kills people. But it does more than that. Malaria also keeps people from work and school every day. Even after you are no longer at risk of death, for months you are still physically weakened and thoroughly exhausted. I can personally attest to this. Imagine trying to train for a game in that condition. Now imagine trying to maintain a farm, or study for a big exam, or take care of your family.

I was lucky enough to be able to afford the medicine that saved my life. But in many households where I'm from, malaria drains a family's budget. Malaria forces parents to choose between a life-saving mosquito net or extra seeds for the harvest that sustains their family; treatment to cure infection or school fees. It weakens national economies. Malaria keeps parents, students, athletes, and whole countries from achieving their goals.

The good news is that we have the proven, cost-effective tools to prevent, diagnose and treat malaria. But we have to work together to make sure everyone has access to them and uses them regularly.

That's why I'm proud to be an official "Champion" of the United Against Malaria campaign working with several Roll Back Malaria partners and joining my fellow footballers Samuel Eto'o, Christopher Katongo, Steven Pienaar and Degu Debebe, to let everyone following the 2013 Orange Africa Cup of Nations' games in South Africa this month know that we can stop malaria.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF),has named the United Against Malaria campaign an official social cause of the 2013 Orange Africa Cup of Nations. Thanks to CAF, we're using the most popular event on the African continent to we reach billions of people with life-saving messages to prevent and treat malaria at home.

And we're working with African leaders like President Compaoré (Burkina Faso), President Ouattara (Côte d'Ivoire), President Sirleaf (Liberia), President Kikwete (Tanzania), and President Museveni (Uganda), to ensure their fellow policy-makers in Africa and around the world hear their message of commitment to the malaria fight loud and clear.

Together, we've joined voices to let Africans and the world know we can stop malaria. We can prevent it, we can treat it, and we can demand that our leaders invest in programs and policies that save lives.

I believe in an Africa free of malaria. That is my dream. We are at an exciting moment to overcome the disease, but we must band together to make sure that people protect themselves from malaria. I'm proud of the team who has already joined me in this fight, and I hope you will to. United we can and will beat malaria.

For more info, go to