A uniquely powerful partnership of the Namibian government with the Namibia Football Association and FIFA has been formed to implement a health education programme, drawing its power from the nation’s passion for football.

This was announced by FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Jiri Dvorak, who was in the country for meeting with various stakeholders. The objective of his visit was to tie Namibia into the growing alliance believing in the power of football to improve public health in African countries. The FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F-MARC) has developed a highly effective education tool that improves the knowledge and changes the attitude of children towards the most important diseases in a playful manner.

Addressing the media at the Namibia Football Association (NFA) today, Prof. Dvorak commended the response he got from the government presented by the Minister of Education, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Youth and Sport, all of whom he met on Thursday in Windhoek.  “It was very encouraging to note the overwhelming support of the government of Namibia for 'The 11 for Health' programme and surely, with their blessing, our plans for nationwide implementation will succeed," he said.

As part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup legacy programmes, 'The 11 for Health' programme was identified in several studies in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mauritius as a highly effective tool to instil basic health discipline in youngsters and build a healthier nation by preventing the most relevant diseases threatening the people’s wellbeing.

It was very encouraging to note the overwhelming support of the government of Namibia for 'The 11 for Health' programme.
FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Jiri Dvorak

“The idea of 'The 11 for Health' is very easy to understand and its implementation does not need many resources apart from the schools’ play grounds and physical education teachers. The partnership and joint support from us, FIFA, the national football association and the government has proven particularly forceful to put it into practice," explained Prof. Dvorak.

Namibia’s Minister of Education Doctor Abraham Lyambo embraced the initiative and called for stakeholders to take it seriously, stressed that it can work wonders for the nation if handled positively. With approximately 140,000 players spread across around 100 clubs, football has confirmed as the most popular sport in the country by the National Sports Commission.

He said: “As a government we are pleased and indeed understand this programme as a singularly powerful preventive toll in our football-loving nation. We are proud to be part of one of FIFA’s legacy programmes following Africa’s first-ever World Cup, we all have to contribute and ensure a success of it." Dr Lyambo also said that this programme will soon be considered for implementation in all 1600 schools in Namibia, adding: “The sooner the better”.

The current plan is that the programme will be piloted at 11 schools with primary emphasis on training the physical education teachers. Depending on the success of the pilot’s project, the programme will be fully implemented at all schools as early as January 2012.

F-MARC has made a commitment not only to provide the basic required materials such as balls, but also to supervise and counsel the implementation as well as to guarantee the necessary financial support to kick-start the programme.

Eleven renowned players have committed themselves to adopt the individual messages. Barcelona defender Carles Puyol is the symbol for fighting the spread of infective diseases by promoting “Wash your Hands”, and his club mate and reigning World Footballer of the Year Lionel Messi contributes to preventing non-communicable diseases by advising “Eat a balanced diet".

South African female footballer Portia Modise is advocating “Drink Clean Water”, France’s Thierry Henry drives the message “Respect Girls and Women”. Cameroon’s Samuel Eto demonstrates how to “shield” against diseases such as Malaria by using treated bed-nets while Ivorian icon Didier Drogba is for “Shots to save lives” representing vaccination against disease.

“Prevention is better than cure, no matter what disease we look at”, says Prof. Dvorak. “Football is an ideal platform to promote a healthy lifestyle and prevent disease.”