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At a glance: Ghana

Tennis ace Serena Williams supports Ghana’s biggest health campaign

UNICEF Image: Serena Williams in Ghana
© UNICEF Ghana/2006/Hickling
Tennis star Serena Williams claps with the crowd of women and children who welcomed her to Nungua-Zongo, Ghana.

By Allison Hickling

NUNGUA-ZONGO, Ghana, 6 November 2006 – For families across Ghana, yesterday was the day to get their young children immunized against deadly childhood diseases, boost their immunity against illness and receive free mosquito nets to help prevent malaria. It was the conclusion of the country’s week-long integrated child health campaign, the largest such effort in Ghana to date.

For US tennis star Serena Williams, it was an opportunity to witness the realities facing parents who struggle to help their children survive the first years of life. Two days after arriving in Ghana, on her first visit to Africa, Ms. Williams rolled up her sleeves and joined a team of volunteer health workers serving the small, deprived community of Nungua-Zongo in Greater Accra.

“I have always dreamed of coming into a village like this,” she told the villagers. “You have made my dream come true. I am honoured to be here.”

A hands-on visit

A group of women, sitting with their babies and young children, packed into a shady area in Nungua-Zongo waiting to see the health team. After a briefing from UNICEF Ghana’s Chief of Health and Nutrition, Ms. Williams quickly started her rounds, putting tiny drops of immunity-boosting vitamin A into children’s mouths.

UNICEF Image: Serena Williams in Ghana
© UNICEF Ghana/2006/Hickling
Serena Williams with children from the Nungua-Zongo community who turned out to receive immunization against measles and polio.

Nungua-Zongo was one of 9,500 immunization points set up nationwide to vaccinate almost 6 million children against measles and polio, provide 5.4 million children with vitamin A supplements and hand out 2.1 million free insecticide-treated bed nets to families with children under the age of two.

In addition to these services, 500,000 children in the three northern regions of Ghana were de-wormed.

Spirit and warmth

“You guys are great for coming out and making sure everyone has their vaccinations,” Ms. Williams told the mothers. “I’m definitely going to go back to the United States and talk to everyone about this experience. That way people can be more aware of diseases like malaria, and getting the polio vaccine and all these vaccinations that are so necessary and so vital for children’s health.”

Ms. Williams joined local authorities in a demonstration of how to use the bed nets, but not before she sat and talked with the children who had been patiently waiting all morning to receive care and get a glimpse of the world-famous sports star. A few mothers spontaneously began to clap. Soon the entire crowd swayed and clapped in unison, in a display of Ghanaian spirit and warmth.

The five-day campaign was one of Ghana’s many efforts to reduce its high rates of child mortality, which are particularly acute in the country’s northern regions.




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