NATIVE Exclusive: How Yemi Alade, Bonang Matheba And More Are Joining The Fight Against Malaria In Africa

A fight against malaria no-more in Africa

According to the World Health Organization, in 2020, nearly half of the world’s population was at risk of malaria. Current figures state that over 241 million cases were reported with 31.9% of malaria-related deaths coming from Nigeria. As such, Malaria No More, a UK-based non-governmental organisation with a focus on Africa dedicated to curbing the spread of malaria and providing information and resources on its treatment and cure, continued its campaign from last year to further this mission.

The campaign, Zero Malaria Starts With Me–Draw The Line Against Malaria pulls together influential figures and cultural tastemakers across sub-Saharan Africa, in a bid to encourage different citizens of these countries to bite back against the pandemic that kills hundreds of thousands in Africa. Currently in its second installment, this year, the “Draw The Line Against Malaria” campaign seeks to deepen its impact in African communities. 

This year, the campaign is accompanied by the Meji Alabi-directed short film to rally in the fight against malaria. Featuring Zero Malaria ambassadors British footballer and coach, David Beckham; FC Barcelona striker, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang; Kenyan Olympic Gold-medalist, Eliud Kipchoge; Nigerian Afropop artiste and Grammy winner, Yemi Alade; South African Television presenter, Bonang Matheba; and Olympic champion, Faith Kipyegon, the film delivers a personal message to world leaders to accelerate their efforts and mitigate the risk of malaria by 90% by 2030.

This year’s efforts will turn up the pressure on world leaders to commit over $18 billion (USD) to the next phase of the campaign which recently took place at the Kigali Summit and the Global Fund in New York. To this end, we caught up with Yemi Alade, Bonang Matheba, and Laolu Sebanjo to learn more about Malaria No More’s mission in Sub-Saharan Africa and their roles as custodians of the fight against the terminal disease.

Their words which follow below have been lightly edited for clarity.

NATIVE: What does it mean to you to be a Zero malaria ambassador?

YEMI ALADE: It’s a personal choice for many reasons. First off, malaria has been a disease that has plagued Africa for a long time. As a Nigerian, Malaria is a common disease that has been made normal yet it is deadly. It’s all about creating change with the time and resources we have. For me, it is more of a personal decision rather than jumping on the bandwagon. 

BONANG: I have so many answers to this question but really, it means having quite a huge responsibility. Through my work, both with Zero Malaria,Global Citizen, and the United Nations, I’ve discovered the different factors that impact the young African child. This is an organisation that is very close to home and it is something that I know people have dealt with. I think it’s a wonderful position to be in, to lend your voice to such an amazing campaign and to be able to communicate such important messages to people; messages that can save their lives, and that could impact the way they live. I think it’s a wonderful role, a wonderful responsibility and it’s something that I don’t take for granted at all.

LAOLU: To be very plain about it, many people in the West are unfamiliar with malaria. Especially in the US where I work and live. Being a Zero Malaria ambassador gives me a chance to change that, to change people’s perceptions of it. Because growing up in Nigeria, malaria wasn’t uncommon, you know? For me, I had malaria multiple times and I understand the impact that it has on a generation of people; on the lifestyle, on education, on output in terms of productivity. I’ve seen that first hand; I’ve had malaria and like, had to stop going to school to get better. People out here, do not understand the gravity of what that tbh t i’m. Being here and being Nigerian, it allows me the opportunity to be able to express myself in a very different viewpoint [because] the fight against malaria is personal for me.

NATIVE: How did you get to connect with the vision of the project? What was the starting point for the collaboration? 

LAOLU: The folks at the Malaria No More project, they came to my studio in Manhattan and we had the first meeting—this was 2019 or so—and they said, ‘this is what we’re doing and we’d love you to be part of it . Immediately I heard malaria, I was like, yes, this is something I’d love to be part of —. using my visual language, as an artist, to be able to do something to expose ailments that have plagued us in West Africa for so long. It’s like a marriage of what I do as a visual artist and my human rights background, ‘cos I’m also a lawyer as well. To be able to fight for something that I truly believe in. That’s the initial contact point; they reached out to me and I said yes. 

BONANG: I don’t take for granted my appeal and my reach, not only on social media, but also at home. I have a very huge fanbase and I think what I wanted to bring was an insight to people at home about malaria, and how it can impact them when they go do something simple like going on a hike or going for a safari. I wanted to educate my fans, I wanted to introduce them to a message I thought was very very important but I think joining the team, I just wanted to bring another voice to add to the other incredible voices. I think the more people there are, the better it is.


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NATIVE: You were involved in the first Draw the Line Against Malaria campaign — which aims to mobilise young people in Africa and globally to unite efforts to eliminate malaria in this generation; what are some of your highlights of last year’s campaign?

YEMI: Despite the fact we were getting off the lockdown and covid, the people at the zero Malaria found an interesting way to pull the youth towards the campaign. 74% of Africans aged under 35 are youth. This makes them powerful change agents. They rallied the youth to step up against malaria. We all know every 60 seconds a child is dying because of malaria. The campaign came up with the language “MUNDO”. It is made up of lines and patterns. The youths would have to go to and add their stroke, a personal line of MUNDO. Most time in politics and things that change the world, you find people gathering around and making empty promises. It’s as if the people in power who need to hear the feedback of the citizens never get the message. Last year, youth were represented with the strokes they put on MUNDO at the Malaria summit. It made them feel included and effective, It found a way to involve Africans all over the world regardless of your location.

NATIVE: One of the campaign’s objectives is to provide a public mandate, reward, and inspire cover leaders across Africa and the rest of the world to commit to malaria. How would you say you are championing this vision?

YEMI: I am a musician. Even though the purpose of my music is to make people happy and distract them from their worries, I would say being part of such movements help the world become a better place. There is normally a huge meeting after every 3 years aimed toward global funding by business leaders and countries willing to pledge their finances towards the eradication of Malaria, AIDS, and Tuberculosis. In 2019 there was a record-breaking 14 billion contribution. With  the meeting that is about to take place in 2022, we hope we can keep these funds coming through.

LAOLU: It’s an ongoing process, and I’m really proud of the work that we’ve been able to achieve in this field but it’s also important that this particular thing serves as a bridge for those who come after. We have to keep championing these causes so that people in the diaspora, world leaders can also see why we’re doing this and why they should be part of it. In our lifetime, the goal is to make sure that Malaria is a thing of the past. And that’s what I’m doing with my art, that is what I am doing with the “MUNDO.”


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NATIVE: The Zero Malaria Campaign aims to get more young people involved in public health issues. How do you think this can be achieved and what role(s) can they play?

YEMI: The youth are the driving force of any economy. The good part about the “draw the line” campaign  is that the core focus is the youth. We live in a world that is fuelled by social media — platforms/ a world dominated by the youths. The youth can lend their voice to the campaign. The youth can take up the role to ensure mosquito nets are distributed, encourage environmental cleanliness, and sensitise our women and kids about Malaria. 

BONANG: The younger generation is very receptive and alert to health messages since the COVID-19 pandemic. I think that right now, it’s very important to be part of things like this where people are alert and they want to empower themselves with as much knowledge as possible, whether it’s on monkeypox, or malaria or COVID-19. I think the youths are ready to champion these projects and protect themselves and know as much as possible. I think the youths are like these big social justice movement champions. They’re behind some of these movements that are absolutely changing the world, so I think that if I can get behind something like Zero Malaria, a disease that impacts so many young people, particularly young women here in South Africa and the African continent, I can influence them too. I want to be able to help young people on things that could impact them and how to prepare and prevent themselves from things like that.

LAOLU: I think it starts by giving young people autonomy over their health. They should be in charge. You know, the new generation of change makers have all the information that they need that those who have come before them do not have. Look at what we can do with our phones now, what we can do with technology, what we can do with AR, VR, to educate one another. We have all these tools, immersive realities, to depict the world that we live in. So giving us the baton, letting us take charge, we can do this job, ‘cos we understand the generation we live in. 

NATIVE: In Nigeria, Malaria is perhaps the one of the most common illnesses that we know. Do you think that contributes to a narrative problem; that perhaps people trivially take the consequences and believe they face no long term harm? 

LAOLU: You don’t blame people; it’s almost like a defeatist mentality which is why we’re pushing the information about malaria heavily. People die of malaria. The havoc that Malaria causes on our economy is much more than you can even imagine. The number of people who dropout of school due to Malaria is crazy. Malaria causes stunted growth in an infant—they are not using their full capacities because of Malaria. These are issues, right, because it’s not physical you’re not seeing it immediately you think ‘oh, it’s not a problem, I’m just going to get better; I’m going to use medication at home.’ No, it’s not that. It’s a lot more than that. We all need to see the havoc Malaria causes. 

Featured Image Credits/NATIVE

Written by Wonu Osikoya, Emmanuel Esomnofu and Tela Wangeci