In 2004, I travelled with my band to Gabon for a concert. When we returned to our home in South Africa, my dear friend and fellow band member, Phumzile Ntuli, became very ill. We didn't quite know what was wrong. No one knew that Phumzile had contracted malaria while traveling on tour. A short time later, on June 23, 2004, Phumzile fell into a coma and tragically died from the disease.
Phumzile was a fighter -- always had been. Since she was a young girl she fought through the boundaries of poverty to pursue her passions of music and raising a family. How could she not fight through this? How could this fun-loving, strong, and extremely gifted musician be robbed of her family, and her life, how could her voice be silenced?
I was without a doubt shocked by her sudden death. But I was even more shocked when I learned that malaria -- a disease that kills a child every 45 seconds -- is both preventable and treatable. I was shocked to learn that through the simple use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and through early diagnosis and treatment, my friend's life could have been saved.
Sadly, Phumzile's story wasn't new. In fact, there are more than 200 million cases of malaria each year, and many of those who become infected die from the disease- most of them, children under the age of five. Half of the world's population is at risk of contracting malaria. These people are my beloved neighbors, friends, fans, and fellow Africans.
In remembrance of Phumzile, I accepted the invitation to be Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF and Roll Back Malaria. Over the past seven years, I have travelled across Africa sharing my dear friend's story. I have made it my mission to share her voice -- and the voice of poor and disenfranchised women and children throughout Africa -- to help put an end to this epidemic.
To date, I have met with policy-makers around the world, addressed representatives at the United Nations General Assembly, and have advocated among leaders of the G20 countries. I have visited remote villages and sprawling cities throughout my continent to shed light on the severity and the solutions for protecting yourself against malaria. Most importantly, through my own Princess of Africa Foundation, I have worked alongside some remarkable people -- from community health volunteers to educators to faith leaders -- all who are working hard each day to protect their people, resulting in amazing progress. Several countries in Africa have reduced malaria rates by 50 perfect including Zambia Rwanda Ethiopia and Ghana to name a few.
I hope that by sharing my story, I will encourage you to become champions in the fight against malaria.
The Champions to End Malaria exhibit -- a joint project of the United Nations Foundation's Nothing But Nets campaign, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership and the ExxonMobil Foundation -- highlights the extraordinary efforts individuals have made against malaria. Featuring portraits by world-renowned photographer Platon, the exhibition illustrates that anyone -- from students and CEOs to bishops and basketball players -- can have a role in bringing an end to malaria deaths.
The photo exhibition will remain open to the public at the UN until May 22, 2011 and can be viewed online at Champions.NothingButNets.net.