Football as a health-enhancing activity took centre stage in Myanmar on Wednesday 24 October during the official opening ceremony of FIFA’s first-ever ‘11 for Health’ and medical course programme in Asia. Myanmar’s Deputy Minister of Sports Thaung Htike, Deputy Minister of Education Myo Myint and the President of the Myanmar Football Federation (MFF), Zaw Zaw, joined FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer Prof. Jiri Dvorak for the symbolic kick-off in Yangon.
“Myanmar’s people are passionate about football and over recent years FIFA has been helping us to harness our passion as a tool for development,” said Zaw. “While in the past FIFA has supported us in the area of infrastructure, 11 for Health gives us an excellent opportunity to address some crucial health issues and thus multiply the benefits of football for our population.”
The five-day FIFA 11 for Health course is directed to football coaches and school teachers from all over the country who will be in charge of implementing football for health schemes in Myanmar, a nation in which according to recent estimations of UNAIDS approximately 18,000 people died annually of HIV-related illnesses.
FIFA’s landmark health programme was developed according to an analysis of risk factors by the World Health Organization (WHO), and it is based on 11 simple health messages that aim at tackling risk factors. Its main objective is to use football to help improve children’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviour with regard to vital health issues.
“After the successful implementation of 11 for Health in different African nations, we are taking our programme to another country where we hope to address key health challenges, such as HIV prevention and hygiene matters,” said Prof. Dvorak. “As in all the other countries we have visited, our intention is to establish a sustainable preventive health programme. We hope our project in Myanmar will mark the start of a fruitful implementation of FIFA’s health programmes in Asia, and particularly in south-east Asia, a region whose population faces similar public health issues than the ones we have identified in Myanmar.”
According to a report based on a pilot 11 for Health study conducted by FIFA in South Africa in 2009 and published in the renowned British Journal of Sports Medicine, 'protect yourself from HIV' was the message with the second-highest increase in awareness among South African children after ‘eat a balanced diet’.
“By conveying a specific message about HIV prevention as part of our 11 for Health programme, we aim at targeting Myanmar’s youngsters and women, who constitute HIV high-risk groups,” added Dvorak. “Given the difficulties of granting general access to antiretroviral therapy, the use of football as an educational tool to encourage HIV prevention plays a fundamental role.”
Kyaw Zin Wai, professor of the Yankin Children Hospital in Yangon added: “We have implemented a special programme to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission. However, due to our limited resources, we fully welcome and praise FIFA’s efforts in the area of prevention.”
Around 1,500 coaches and teachers have joined the 11 for Health programmes that have been organised in 14 countries since 2009. “By 2014 we expect to have a worldwide population of two million youngsters benefiting from our campaign,” stated Dvorak during his opening presentation.
A variety of football stars, most recently Colombia’s striker Radamel Falcao, have been lending their support to FIFA’s initiative.
“Through football I have been able to understand the importance of promoting a healthy life, and particularly a balanced diet. As a role model for many children around the world, I’m committed to conveying this fundamental message,” commented Falcao in a video message.