American star athletes deliver anti-malaria nets in Mali

American sports stars are lending a hand in delivering 133,000 insecticide-treated nets to children and families in Mali beginning Thursday.

The campaign, Nothing But Nets, is working with athletes, business executives, governments and religious leaders to combat malaria in the west African nation where the disease is the leading cause of death for children under five years of age.

"Here in Mali, it's hard to find anyone who hasn't been touched in some way by malaria," said McKee Gore, director of Nothing But Nets and of campaign partnerships at the United Nations Foundation, in a statement.

"Nothing But Nets and our partners are grateful to the thousands of individuals who have logged onto and donated as little as $10 to send these lifesaving bed nets."

"Nothing But Nets" founding partners include The People of the United Methodist Church, the United Nations Foundation, the National Basketball Association's NBA Cares, and Sports Illustrated.

The net distribution from Dec. 13 to 19 is part of an integrated, national health campaign in Mali to reach more than 2.8 million children with health interventions to prevent malaria, measles, and polio.

In addition to net distribution, the integrated health campaign - led by the Malian Ministry of Health - will provide measles and polio vaccinations, de-worming medication and vitamin A supplements.

It is the first time in Mali that these five health interventions have been delivered at the same time.

Currently in Mali are campaign sports representatives Diego Gutierrez, midfielder for Major League Soccer's (MLS) Chicago Fire; Dwayne De Rosario, midfielder for MLS Houston Dynamo and MLS Cup 2007 MVP; and Ruth Riley, center for Women's National Basketball Association's San Antonio Silver Stars and two-time WNBA champion and Olympic Gold Medalist.

The star athletes will join with other campaign partner representatives - Gary Henderson, director of Global Health for the People of the United Methodist Church, and Dr. Steven Phillips, medical director for Global Issues and Projects at ExxonMobil - to distribute nets and meet with children and families affected by malaria.

"Whether you are an athlete, a religious leader, a CEO, a volunteer, a student or a teacher, we all have resources that we can utilize to help make a difference in this world," said Riley, who's also the national spokesperson for Nothing But Nets. "By mobilizing all of our resources and support, we can help to make a significant impact on the lives of children."

While in Mali, the athletes will teach nearly 120 Malian youths, age 12-16, basketball and soccer skills during a sports clinic on Saturday. The sports stars will also educate the youths on ways to prevent malaria and childhood diseases.

Meanwhile, other Nothing But Nets representatives will participate in a faith leaders' event that will gather both local and international leaders of faith together to discuss ways to address global health problems.

Malaria is a preventable and treatable disease that kills a child every 30 seconds in Africa. Long-lasting insecticide-treated nets are a cost-effective and simple approach to combating the deadly disease. The Nothing But Nets campaign has raised more than $16 million and by the end of 2007 will have delivered more than 700,000 nets.