The Football for Hope movement has been making its own contribution to World AIDS Day today, with the help of Grassroot Soccer at the Football for Hope Centre in Khayelitsha.
World AIDS Day has been held on the first day of December for the last 21 years and its goal is to raise awareness of the HIV virus and AIDS. Joining the combat against this global scourge, FIFA is also engaged in the struggle through its Football for Hope centres.
Every year, World AIDS Day concentrates on a theme and in 2009 that theme is 'HIV: Reality.' The harsh realities facing people in Africa are precisely what persuaded FIFA to implement its '20 Centres for 2010' campaign, the purpose of which is to promote public health, education and football in disadvantaged communities across Africa through the construction of specialised centres. The project intends above all to leave a tangible legacy across Africa.
More concretely, the Football for Hope Centre in Khayelitsha, near Cape Town, is being operated by host organisation Grassroot Soccer and, although it is already operational, will be officially opened on 5 December. Grassroot Soccer's approach is to use football to educate youngsters about HIV and AIDS so as to halt the disease's spread, and they call on former players, coaches, teachers and educators in the parts of Africa most touched by AIDS to transmit their message. Since 2002, some 50,000 youngsters have been taught about AIDS prevention.
Figures falling but still high
Former player Tommy Clark founded Grassroot Soccer after losing a number of his colleagues to the illness during his days at a club in Zimbabwe. "We all realised that this was affecting so many people and we decided to do something," the Scotsman said recently. "We had no idea what, but we knew how popular and powerful football was and that we wanted to use that to start an education programme."
A recent joint study carried out by the United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that the number of HIV infections dropped by 17 per cent in the last eight years, with reductions most notable in sub-Saharan Africa. That progress demonstrates that prevention programmes are working, though there is still a very long way to go.
Estimates suggest that more than 33 million people are living with the virus today, with 2.7 million having contracted it in 2008 and around two million dying from AIDS in the same year. Those horrifying figures underline just how important it is to continue working on prevention initiatives, while treating those suffering from the disease as effectively as possible.