Brenda Blethyn has defended the use of celebrities for charity appeals, following a backlash against what has been described as "poverty tourism".

The Vera star was responding to a move made by Comic Relief to have celebrities take a back seat for its on-location appeals due to complaints about some videos made by stars last year.

Three videos – made by Ed Sheeran, Tom Hardy and Eddie Redmayne for appeals in Liberia, Yemen and Africa – were nominated for "most offensive" campaigns in last year's Radi-Aid Awards.

The Sheeran video, which was judged the winner, was criticised because it was "focused on Ed Sheeran as the main character"; Hardy's was described as portraying sick children as "devoid of dignity" and Redmayne's was deemed "poverty porn and people waiting to be saved", according to the awards jury.

But Blethyn, who is one of the celebrities involved in a new malaria awareness campaign, said celebrities play an important role in getting a charity's message out.

She told Good Morning Britain on Wednesday: "Just me being here now, it's 'Oh there's Vera, she's on Vera, what is she on there for?'.

"So they listen, they hear the message."

The campaign – Malaria Must Die So Millions Can Live – also features James Corden and Dame Helen Mirren, among others, trying to swat mosquitoes.

The message is that, while they may be irritating for some people, mosquitoes kill 445,000 people a year and more than half of those victims are in Commonwealth countries.

There are calls for leaders to "unite and fight" the disease at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April.

Blethyn, 72, said: "All we are asking people to do is just two minutes of their time.

"One minute to watch the film and campaign on and then spread that message with as many of your friends as you can.

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"For most of us, mozzie bites are an annoying part of a trip abroad. But for millions around the world, a single mozzie bite can lead to death.

"The sad fact is malaria is still rife across Africa and one of the world's biggest, preventable killers of young children."

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