A FIFA delegation led by FIFA Chief Medical Officer Prof. Jiri Dvorak and supported by Cameroonian superstar Samuel Eto’o has just completed a visit to Sierra Leone and Ghana to experience first-hand the progress of FIFA’s health campaigns.

One year after the emergency campaign “11 against Ebola” was launched in West Africa at the peak of the Ebola epidemic, FIFA is now introducing its longer-term health promotion campaign, “FIFA 11 for Health”, in Sierra Leone. The timing of the visit could not have been more symbolic with only three days to go until the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declares Sierra Leone Ebola free on 6 November 2015.

Known for his social engagement and strong commitment to the African continent, Samuel Eto’o took the opportunity during his visit to Sierra Leone and Ghana to interact with vulnerable communities, especially children affected by the Ebola epidemic. As well as visiting the Grafton orphanage in Freetown, which takes care of very young children who have lost their entire families to the Ebola virus, Eto’o also went in to local schools in Sierra Leone and Ghana to communicate and promote the “FIFA 11 for Health” messages.

The four-time African footballer of the year was one of the first players to support the “FIFA 11 for Health” programme , which harnesses the power of football and scientific research to inspire girls and boys to lead healthy lifestyles. The programme seeks to improve children’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviour around vital health issues such as HIV, TB, malaria, diabetes, obesity and hypertension. It has been a success in more than 20 countries around the world since its introduction ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.

After visiting several health projects in Freetown and Accra, Samuel Eto’o said: “I’m excited to be home in Africa and proud to see what my brothers in Sierra Leone have achieved in successfully fighting against the Ebola virus. Health is the most important thing in life, with health and a strong dream you can achieve anything in life. Football has an important role to play in educating young girls and boys to live a healthy lifestyle.”

The delegation’s trip to Sierra Leone ended with a courtesy visit to Her Excellency Ms Sia Koroma, First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone. “I would like to thank FIFA and football for their valuable contribution to the fight against Ebola. Football has the power to make people listen and be aware of important health messages. I’m also proud of Samuel Eto’o, not only for what he has achieved as an African footballer, but also of what he is willing to give back to society and the people of Sierra Leone with his visit,” said the First Lady.

Isha Johansen, President of the Sierra Leone Football Association and a key figure in the implementation of the project, said: “As the WHO prepares to declare Sierra Leone Ebola-free, I am proud to look back upon all that football and the ’11 against Ebola’ campaign has achieved in the fight against this deadly virus”.

FIFA Chief Medical Officer Prof. Jiri Dvorak added: “It has been an emotional experience witnessing the positive impact that FIFA’s ‘11 against Ebola’ campaign has had on the local communities here in Sierra Leone. When football talks, people tend to listen. It is only thanks to the close partnership between the world’s best footballers, the WHO, the World Bank, the Sierra Leone Football Association and the Sierra Leone government that FIFA has been able to contribute to the fight against the virus. A healthy society is fundamental for the wellbeing of a country and we will continue with our objectives by bringing ‘FIFA 11 for Health’ to Sierra Leone and implementing the fourth stage of the programme in Ghana.”

The “11 against Ebola” campaign was put together last year by FIFA with the support of the World Bank and WHO, using the voices of world-famous players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba and Neymar to inform the local population about important measures that could be taken in order to avoid spreading the Ebola virus.

Anders Nordström, head of the WHO delegation in Sierra Leone, also praised the initiative: “It was an extreme situation trying to find ways to fight against the Ebola epidemic. FIFA’s ‘11 against Ebola’ campaign provided a very useful tool to support the challenge of battling the virus, as the messages were simple, strong, and easy to apply and distribute in the country.”

After the visit to Sierra Leone focusing on the Ebola response, the delegation then travelled to Ghana where the longer-term “FIFA 11 for Health” campaign has been running successfully for three years. Prince Pambo, FIFA’s national project leader in Ghana who is ready to launch the fourth stage of the programme, explained: “I’m excited to welcome FIFA and Samuel to Ghana to witness the implementation of the programme. 300 schools across Ghana with 600 teachers and about 20,000 students have gone through the training programme.”

The FIFA delegation will now continue their journey to East Africa to visit the “FIFA 11 for Health” programmes in Kenya, where they will meet various key stakeholders from the government, local football associations and the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) with the aim of securing widespread support for FIFA’s vital health promotion programme.