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Saving the next Mohamed Kallon

Saving the next Mohamed Kallon

Football and health are not strange bedfellows. In fact, you have to be healthy to be able to play sports.  However, the next generation of footballers, or presidents, lawyers, engineers, doctors, managers, journalists, etc. has to first survive birth and live healthily through childhood to develop the potential to become the desired leaders of tomorrow.  (Photo: A woman named Aminata watches over her 5 month old baby at the Ola During Hospital)

So it’s not surprising that Save the Children (Sierra Leone Programme) recently announced a partnership with the Sierra Leone Premier League Board (PLB) to use football to promote the ‘Every One Campaign’.

Launched about eight months ago, the Every One Campaign is an initiative by Save the Children in complement of the effort of the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) to significantly reduce infant and maternal mortality (deaths of mothers and children under age five) in the country.

Sierra Leone is among the worst countries in the world with high rates of infant and maternal deaths. According to a 2011 midwifery report, there are only two midwives to attend to 1,000 births. Many of the country’s pregnant women are attended to by the infamous Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) living next door.

However, since the launch of the campaign and subsequent partnerships with key stakeholders such as the media and musicians, some progress has been made.

“Currently infant and maternal deaths in Sierra Leone have reduced by 50; from 190 deaths per every 1000 births to 140. So we are moving forward, but we need to do more – like halving it to 70 deaths per 1000 births before 2015,”said Joanna Tom Kargbo, Program Officer, Every One Campaign.

“This is achievable,” continued Joanna, “especially when you consider that most of these deaths are caused by preventable diseases.”

Through partnership with the PLB, Save the Children is engaging footballers and club officials as attitude change agents to help spread the word of the campaign. A key message of the campaign is to encourage pregnant women and suckling mothers to take advantage of the government’s Free Health Care program.

“Football has a large following and footballers have great influence on their fans. So when they talk about the campaign people will listen and become interested,” said Morlai Conteh, Information Officer, Save the Children.

Following the formal launch of the partnership at the Football Academy, Kingtom, Freetown, on 16th February 2012, Save the Children and the PLB conducted workshops for Premier League clubs to empower them with knowledge on the Every One Campaign and the Free Health Care program. Workshops were held in Freetown, Makeni and Kenema with participants drawn from all the 14 registered Premier League football clubs.

Public announcers, or more appropriately Town Criers, in every District also participated in the workshop as they were considered as key in the disemination of important information in their respective communities. They were each presented with a microphone, with built-in recording device, to help them in their work. The Town Criers are expected to pass on key messages of the campaign when they announce upcoming fixtures and other public notices.

In addition, all Premier League football fields, including the National Stadium in Freetown, will be branded with the campaign in various ways. Huge Every One billboards will be displayed at the playing fields in Tongo, Kono, Makeni and Bo for now, while more will be available for other pitches as the campaign gathers momentum. Premier league players will don Every One t-shirts on the pitch during warm-up to their encounters. Ball boys will also wear Every One campaign t-shirts during matches. Before every Premier League match, both Captains will display the Every One campaign banner and make a declaration on the campaign to the fans.

In return for all these, Save the Children has committed to provide the PLB with a giant champion’s trophy, medals and 15 smaller trophies for various awards such as best player and highest goal scorer.

For a league that is struggling to secure sponsorship this should be welcome news, but PLB Chairman Victor Lewis is more excited about the fact that the premier league is contributing to a national cause.

“We are very proud to be a key partner in this important national health campaign. Yes, we need the trophies and the medals; but the fact that we are helping to save lives means a lot to us. Who knows, may be the child we save today could be the next Mohamed Kallon tomorrow,” said Lewis.

Of the 192 fixtures scheduled for the two-leg league, more than 50 matches have been played so far without sponsorship. Strangely, the usual suspects – Africell, Mercury International Ltd and Sierra Leone Commercial Bank – have committed themselves only in promises. According to Lewis, matches are currently being funded from the pockets of a couple of PLB members.

If the situation continues like this, there’s likelihood that the league will stall at some point, and this will adversely affect the partnership agreement with Save the Children. However, Lewis is positive the coming in of Save the Children will attract high profile sponsorship to the league.

“Our partnership with a reputable ngo like Save the Children has apparently raised the profile of the league. And we are positive this will bring a lot of prospects as long as we fulfill our own part of the bargain,” said Lewis.

By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

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