As President of the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF), I’ve seen firsthand how malaria affects players and fans alike. Malaria has taken some of the biggest names in football (soccer) out of the game, and there are more than 160 million cases of malaria across Africa every year. This deadly disease impacts all of us in Africa.

But I’ve also seen the powerful role football can play in reaching Africans with life-saving malaria prevention and treatment messages. Through our partnership with the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership and its United Against Malaria (UAM) campaign during the 2013 OrangeTM Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, our premiere tournament, we reached more than one billion fans, encouraging them to take action and protect themselves and their families from malaria. Our work with UAM supports the countless efforts of the global malaria community, with the goal of eradicating the disease from our great continent.

But this progress is fragile, and malaria still greatly threatens Africa’s prosperity. Today, a child dies from the malaria every minute, and the disease severely limits economic development, costing Africa an estimated minimum of $12 billion in lost productivity every year. While important to celebrate our successes, we must remain dedicated to the fight.

As part of this commitment, CAF once again designated UAM as an official social cause of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, which is coming to a close on February 8. As part of this work, some of Africa’s most popular players have stepped up and offered support, by lending their popular image and voice to reach dedicated fans in communities across the region. Football stars Gervinho (Cote d’Ivoire), André Ayew (Ghana) and Seydou Keita (Mali) star in new UAM television spots airing in stadium and in-malaria-endemic countries throughout the tournament. Our aim is to ensure that when fans watch the games, they’ll remember more than just the winning goal.

Just like a football team, together, our efforts are much more powerful. United, we can achieve an Africa free of malaria. To learn more about CAF’s commitment to important social issues that affect all Africans, please visit www.CAFonline.com or www.UnitedAgainstMalaria.org.

This article is published in collaboration with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Issa Hayatou is the President of the Confederation of African Football.

Image: A nurse poses for a photo in a trauma center of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi October 4, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman.