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The Xeex Sibbiru Song Contest being led by Senegalese icons Youssou Ndour and Viviane, and featuring up-and-coming talent, all while reminding viewers to sleep under their mosquito nets.

The Power of Local Voices: Nightwatch, African Artists, and Malaria

June 23, 2011

“It’s 10 o’clock—do you know where your children are?” This is a refrain many of us have known since childhood, a constant message to promote good parenting that has become a staple of U.S. culture. A world away, a nightly message is helping African parents keep their children safe from malaria.

As the fight against malaria keeps up its momentum with remarkable leadership from all sectors of African society, the power of local voices in spurring a social movement is unmistakable.

In the United States, malaria awareness focuses largely on building advocates for the cause and fundraising for malaria control interventions, like mosquito bed nets. In Africa, the effort works to ensure that families are using tools regularly to help save lives.

A new program, NightWatch—developed in partnership with Malaria No More, Lalela Project, Youssou Ndour, and some of Africa’s top stars in music and sports, and made possible with the invaluable support of our partners at the Exxon Mobil Foundation—features more than 20 African icons delivering a nightly message: “It’s 9:00 p.m.—are you and your family safe under a mosquito net tonight?” This nightly reminder reaches families across the country through television, radio, and SMS.

The program is now expanding into Cameroon, where cell phone giant MTN Cameroon is lending its marketing muscle to ensure that the message comes through loud and clear—and boosting vital awareness in coordination with the government’s universal coverage campaign kicking off later this summer.

In the United States, popular platforms like American Idol’s “Idol Gives Back” has helped boost American awareness of malaria from 26 percent in 2006 to over 50 percent in 2010, putting a spotlight on malaria to over 40 million viewers. In Senegal, the Xeex Sibbiru Song Contest takes a similar approachwith a twist. Talented contestants from across the country face off in a singing competition, but they must also incorporate malaria messaging in their songs, learn about malaria, and act as an advocate for the issue within their home communities and nationally.

It’s a classic Idol formula, but with a distinctly African perspective.

And much as the classic “We Are the World” in 1986 and the updated “We Are the World for Haiti” in 2010 brought together top American pop starts to capture the public’s attention, stars in Tanzania have banded together for a malaria anthem “Zinduka!” which urges Tanzanians to “Wake Up!” to the threat of malaria and be part of the solution.

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