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Serena Williams joins the fight against malaria in Ghana

Tennis star urges women and children to use bed nets

ACCRA, 6 November 2006 – On her first trip to Africa, tennis great Serena Williams called on all children and pregnant women in Ghana to protect themselves from the killer disease malaria by consistently sleeping under bed nets. 

On the last day of Ghana’s biggest integrated child health campaign to date, Serena visited Nungua-Zongo, a deprived community in Greater Accra, where she distributed free insecticide-treated bed nets to children under the age of two, administered vitamin A supplements, vaccinated children against polio and observed children receiving the measles vaccine.

“I am really happy to be here in Ghana and to have the opportunity to speak out on the issue of malaria,” Serena said, speaking during her visit. “It is heartbreaking that so many children are dying from a disease that can be prevented. I believe strongly that education can and must play a big role in saving these lives. Children and their families need to know how to protect themselves.”

Malaria is the number one killer of children in Ghana, claiming one-quarter of all under-five deaths every year. The consistent use of treated bed nets could reduce all-cause child mortality in Ghana by 20 per cent, but usage by children under five and pregnant women remains low. As part of the national health campaign, families across the country are being urged to sleep under bed nets through long-term community education efforts.

The vaccinations, vitamin A supplementation and free bed nets provided through the national child health campaign, which ran November 1-5, could help to save 20,000 young lives over the next year. They are critical interventions in a country where some 80,000 children die every year, mostly from preventable causes.

Serena was accompanied on her visit to Nungua-Zongo by Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs Alima Mahama, US Ambassador to Ghana Pamela Bridgewater, and Country Director of the UK Department for International Development (DFID), Mike Hammond.

The national child health campaign was led by the Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service, with support from the Government of Japan, UNICEF, DFID, World Health Organization, Ghana Red Cross Society, World Bank, Measles Initiative, Rotary International, USAID, major development partners of the health sector and the private sector. 

Twenty-five year old Serena rose to fame along with her sister, renowned tennis champion Venus Williams, whose talents allowed both to emerge from a background of poverty in their troubled hometown of Compton, Los Angeles. Four years after turning professional, Serena won her first major tournament by taking the singles title at the 1999 U.S. Open, and went on to win all four Grand Slam titles between 2002-3: the French Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon in 2002 and the Australia Open in 2003. Serena won her second Australian Open in 2005.

Serena has also become notorious for her fashion fetish. On court she draws attention with unconventional tennis outfits and off court she has her own designer clothing line called Aneres.


For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 156 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:

Allison Hickling, UNICEF Ghana, (233) 24-433-4996, ahickling@unicef.org





6 November 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on US tennis champion Serena Williams's visit to Ghana.
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