Last Friday the Nothing But Nets campaign did something we have never done before. We took 20 NBA and WNBA players, coaches, and Legends, to kick off a distribution of 20,000 life-saving bed nets in the town of Rufisque, Senegal – a small town outside the capital, Dakar.
As you drive into Rufisque, it’s easy to see why malaria is such a rampant killer – the town is densely populated and the aging, dilapidated infrastructure leaves pools of standing water during the rainy season we are currently in the midst of – the perfect breeding ground for the malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
When we arrived in Rufisque, the town had gathered with the local officials to welcome the NBA players and talk about the importance of sleeping under bed nets each and every night. Rufisque has a goal for 2010: no severe cases of malaria and no deaths. This bed net distribution will go a long way to making this possible.
To make the distribution manageable, we split into groups and took five different routes along main streets through the town. I headed out with NBA Legend Dikembe Mutombo, Nothing But Nets Champion DeSagana Diop (Charlotte Bobcats), Danilo Gallinari (New York Knicks) and Ronny Turiaf (New York Knicks).
These guys were meant to help hang nets! They had no problem reaching high across a room to put a nail in the wall and string up the four corners of the nets. As a native of Senegal, DeSagana needed no help from the translators we had arranged through the Peace Corps – he jumped right in to speak with the families, ask for the coupons they had received the day before to redeem the nets, and rip open bags to take out life-saving nets, handing them to mothers to help protect their families from malaria.
Each time we walked to another house, Ronny got into a game of street soccer with the kids. He turned to me at one point and said what he really appreciated about the Nothing But Nets campaign was that he knows where each $10 is going – and we were able to see those $10 contributions at work in Rufisque firsthand.
Over the course of two weeks, the 20,000 nets (200 bales) were delivered by boat from Vestergaard-Frandsen in Ghana, put on a truck in the port in Dakar, and unloaded at the health clinic in Rufisque. Meanwhile, 20 community health workers were mobilized to go door to door, educating families on the nets and taking a census to see the number of bed nets needed to cover each sleeping space.
And finally, with the professional basketball players’ help yesterday, we were able to distribute the nets to each home and help hang them. It was an amazing day – successful only through partnership between NBA Cares, Nothing But Nets, USAID, Peace Corp, the Ministry of Health and the National Malaria Control Programme.