One mother’s personal journey to The White House

Jo Yirrell is a Special Ambassador for UK Charity Malaria No More UK - she has dedicated her life to raising awareness about the unnecessary and deadly disease since losing her son to malaria in 2005.

Harry was on a gap year in Ghana and selflessly gave away his malaria pills to the children in the village as he felt they needed them more than he did, a decision that cost him his life. Just three weeks after returning home from his trip to Ghana, he passed away – a victim of falciparum malaria, the deadliest form of the parasitical disease. Although malaria cases are almost unheard of in the UK since it was eradicated here in the 1960s, it is still rife in much of Africa.

Love Actually writer and director Richard Curtis heard about Jo’s story. He was so inspired he wrote a film for Comic Relief based on her and Harry’s story called Mary and Martha, a tale about two mothers with nothing in common except the shared tragedy of losing their sons to malaria. Martha, based on Jo and played by Brenda Blethyn, loses her son Ben after he gives away his ­malaria tablets. She and Mary, played by ­Hollywood actress Hilary Swank, form an unlikely friendship and team up to campaign for malaria prevention.

Since the screening of Mary and Martha on BBC the film has enjoyed a number of high profile screenings and is now being broadcast on HBO following a private invitation for Jo to come to The White House. Jo’s campaign trail continues … in her own words, “I made it my mission to see Ghana become malaria-free”.

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