Chelsea star fights malaria25th July 2011
Chelsea striker Didier Drogba has weathered six years of English winters only to strike out in rural West Africa against one of the world's biggest tropical killer diseases.
Malaria was the last thing Drogba expected to keep him out of the Premier League last season.
But since the soccer star contracted the disease, he has put his experiences to good use, taking what he learned in doctor's consulting rooms in Chelsea to a village where he hopes to fight the disease on the front line.
Now, he is building a hospital in his native Ivory Coast and providing thousands of mosquito nets in southeast Asia in an attempt to slash infection rates, especially among babies and children.
Around 225 million people are infected with malaria every year around the world.
The mosquito-borne disease was confirmed to have killed 781,000 people in 2009 alone.
Nine out of 10 of those deaths were in Africa, according to figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Drogba, 32, said he was inspired to help fight the disease after knowing what malaria felt like.
As he handed out hundreds of nets bearing his face to a foundation in Thailand, he said they would go to children and the poorest people in the country, who couldn't afford medical treatment.
He said mosquito nets were an effective prevention measure that could save lives.
Drogba, who fell ill with malaria last September, has been raising funds of more than US$4 million and making donations to build a hospital in the Ivory Coast capital of Abidjan.
However, he decided to battle on through and continued playing for Chelsea.
Later, he said he regretted the decision, and that it had delayed his recovery from the disease, which wasn't revealed by Chelsea until two months after he contracted it.
Drogba has said he doesn't know how he got malaria, which he described as "dangerous" and as costing him two months' fitness.
He said he kept playing because he wanted to help his team.
Recent elections triggered a four-month conflict in the Ivory Coast in which thousands of people have died.
The former French colony held the elections in the hope of establishing national unity.
French-backed rebels later ousted former President Laurent Gbagbo, who had refused to cede power.
Now, Drogba's hospital project is back under way, and he says that life is slowly returning to normal in the country.
He said he wanted to give the money to his people to repay what they had given to him in support.
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