Ray Chambers, UN Special Envoy for Health Financing interviews NBA legend and Malaria Champion, Shaquille O'Neal
Throughout your career, you’ve been involved in many different fields, from being an NBA star, musician, actor to pursuing a doctoral degree. How did you end up being involved in the fight against malaria?
I’ve been interested in health for a long time, in particular when it comes to children- from raising my own to hosting the Shaq’s challenge against child obesity. I believe health is a fundamental right for all children, and when I learned that one child dies of malaria every minute, from a completely preventable disease, I knew I had to be involved.
Malaria is a disease that is not on the top of mind of the general public, and it’s important that we change this, the more people know about it, the better chance we have to make it a disease of the past. The fact that a mosquito bite can take millions of lives, and something as simple as sleeping under an insecticide treated net can prevent this from happening is incredible. I felt compelled to join in and spread this message.
We commemorate World Malaria Day on April 25th. Do you think we have a reason to celebrate?
We have made great progress in the fight against malaria. From 2000 to 2010 the global mortality rate went down 26%, and this is thanks to organizations like the Global Fund who contribute 50% of all international funding for malaria.
We certainly have reasons to celebrate, but World Malaria Day also reminds us that we can’t give up on this fight just yet. All of the progress that we have achieved so far shows us that it is possible to reach the global health goals set for 2015, but we need to keep working and continue the funding.
Why do you think is important to have a “Big Push” now?
In sports, you need to work hard to achieve and maintain your success, but you need to push it even further to take a definite lead against your opponent. Is the same in this case, to finally defeat malaria we need to overpower- the moment that we slow down on our efforts, the disease takes over and it can come back even stronger than before.
Now more than ever, people have access and are using insecticide treated nets. In Sub Saharan Africa, one of the regions most affected by malaria, around 66 million nets were distributed in 2012 alone. That is huge, but it is still far from the 150 million that they need a year. We know what works against malaria, we have made it this far already, we just need that Big Push to make it happen.
We know that in order to defeat malaria, we need a joint effort from different organizations and individuals. What do you think is the role of the public in this fight?
Be a team player, and work together to achieve a goal. This is how we have been able to get this far, and how we can finally defeat malaria. Everyone has their own role, but something we can all do is spread the message, create awareness of this disease, and of course, support the big players, organizations like the Global Fund. No matter what your role is, we need to join the fight. We can’t let a mosquito win.