The Botswana Football Federation has joined forces with various organisations including FIFA and its government to release a cartoon booklet that they hope can raise awareness about one of the country's major issues - winning the battle against HIV/AIDS.

Around 300,000 people between the ages of 15 and 49 are infected with HIV in the Republic of Botswana. This figure accounts for almost 38 percent of the population across the age group where life expectancy is just 39 years. Botswana's citizens would live to twice that age if the AIDS problem did not exist. Thousands of young children have been left as orphans as a direct result of the pandemic and both the government and football federation are eager to tackle the issue using education as a means of prevention.

There are numerous initiatives and programmes currently in operation in Botswana. One such group - the WHO organization, has linked up with FIFA to address the issue. WHO representative Doctor Jean Alfazema Kalilani explained, "In December 2004, WHO and FIFA agreed to join hands to promote a human rights approach in responding to HIV/AIDS and to address stigma and discrimination that have always impeded our collective ability to effectively fight HIV/AIDS.

"This was in recognition of the complex linkages that exist between health and human rights. Violations or lack of attention to human rights can have serious health consequences. Taking steps to respect, protect and fulfill human rights can reduce vulnerability and the impact of ill health. We believe that all these three linkages between human rights and health apply not only to health in general, but more so to the problem of HIV/AIDS."

FIFA, WHO, UNAIDS and the Botswana Football Federation (BFA) have collaborated to produce a booklet, which they hope can raise awareness amongst young people whilst promoting the values of good health through sport.  Last month, Doctor Kalilani officially launched the "Stand up for human rights" cartoon amid hundreds of young footballers in Gaborone.

Participating in the launch was the Vice President of the Botswana Football Association (BFA) Mr. Segolame Ramothwa, BFA Chief Executive Officer Thabo Ntshinogang, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr. Themba Moeti and the Marketing and Communications Manager of the Botswana National Sports Council (BNSC) Ms. Hirschfedlt Lawrence. Also present were WCO focal person for HIV/AIDS Dr Owen Kaluwa, officials and coaches from the BFA/BNSC program.

The formal part of the launch which is aimed at introducing sport to children in the age categories of 5 to 17 years was followed by football matches between Under 12 teams followed by Under 15s. The BFA are optimistic that by promoting sport and in particular, football, they will be able to convey a strong message that sporting activities are synonymously linked with good health.

As Mr. Ramothwa pointed out during the launch ceremony, "Today's lifestyles demand that we should engage more in sports activities As much as it is important to impart sport skills in children when they are still very young, it is important for children to be taught about health issues while they are young.  If we do that, we are sure that our future is secured.  It is therefore appropriate to commend FIFA and WHO for having formulated a strategy with which they can address issues of HIV/AIDS that are particularly targeting the youth.

"The project that FIFA and WHO have come up with, is a challenge for us, not only at football but for other sporting disciplines to come up with projects that can help the government to fight HIV/AIDS pandemic. We intend to embark on programmes that will safeguard and protect the interests of all our children so that they can continue to enjoy playing football. I am optimistic because addressing this problem by involving the children, who are the future, will save this country from being wiped out by this tragic disease".