The World Cup is in full swing and although the only remaining African team was knocked out by the most blatant display of poor sportsmanship I think I’ve ever seen, it’s still the most popular event on TV and one of the main topics of conservation here in Blantyre. For many Malawians, the World Cup may be the only TV event that they have seen in a few months and they may not see another TV event for a while (“exciting” is not a word I’d use to describe the regularly scheduled programming on Malawi’s only TV station). Public health officials are taking full advantage of this situation and a constant feature of the broadcasts is a small band of text at the bottom of the screen encouraging the viewers to use the mosquito nets and visit the health clinics if they suspect that they or a family member might have malaria. To drive the point home, the half-time analysts usually wear shirts with the local “Roll Back Malaria” logo.
Malaria is a major problem in Malawi – it’s not uncommon for a child to suffer from the disease 4-5 times in a single year and it is one of the leading causes of mortality in children under 5. Although there are some effective preventive measures and treatments available, people must visit a clinic before they take advantage of them. Visiting a clinic can be expensive – the visit itself is free, but the wait can be as long as 8 hours to see a doctor, and if you have to wait that long that means missing out on a day of work.
One small problem with this campaign is that the notices are only in English. Although all Malawians learn English in school, it’s certainly possible that these messages would reach more people if they were also presented in Chichewa, the dominant native language. Other than this small quibble, I think it’s great that officials are using the World Cup as an opportunity to bring important public health messages to as many people as possible.