In recent years there has been tremendous work on HIV awareness and testing and, for the first time in history, over 14 million people are on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). However, Sub-Saharan Africa is still leading on people living with HIV. Countries such as South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe are the most affected, while Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are among the countries that record high number of new infections. This is due to socioeconomic factors including limited access to affordable and quality health care, high rate of poverty, traditional practices and stigmatisation.
Women continue to bear a heavier burden of HIV infection and the effects of stigma than men. Limited economic opportunities, unemployment, gender violence, limited access to birth control and a lack of adequate accessibility to education are some of the factors that escalate women’s vulnerability to HIV infection.
According to UNAids, around half of all new HIV/AIDS infections each year are people under the age of 25. “…. these young people are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS for numerous reasons like their age, physical, emotional, financial and psychological state.’’ (UNAIDS 2014)
It has been documented that the majority of people infected with HIV remain unaware of their status. This is due to a number of factors, including stigmatisation, a lack of sound knowledge of the virus and a lack of advanced available treatment. As the world unites together on World AIDS Day and continues to strive towards its goal of ‘getting to zero’, one perhaps unexpected tool has proven to be useful in the fight against the disease: sport. The power of sport cannot be ignored, especially in engaging those that are more susceptible to the virus.
Through sport, the world can reach out to adolescents in Africa. AIDS is the number one cause of death among this group and the second among adolescents globally.
Girls, who are still seen as secondary citizens in some communities within Sub-Saharan Africa, can be engaged through sport and this will ensure that they are not left behind as the world strives to 'get to zero' infections. In fact, in the region, girls account for 7 in 10 new infections among those aged 15-19.
In those traditions that don’t allow women to attend health classes because of their gender, sports have been used and can be utilised as an ‘ice breaker.’ Can you imagine Masaai men playing cricket and, during the game, talking about women's empowerment? There are some communities who traditionally see women as secondary, not allowing them to make choices such as when to have children or negotiate to have safe sex. Encouraging men to discuss family planning and allowing women to make informed decisions can help the world to get to zero.
There are groups that are particularly hard to reach in these cultures: men who have unprotected sex with men, transactional sex workers, people who inject drugs to name just a few, that could prevent the world from getting to zero infections. Sport can be used to raise awareness and change social attitudes towards these groups.
As we all aspire to zero infections, the world is faced by inundated task of constantly finding resources to make sure no one is left behind. Value for money will be taking centre stage as funding priorities are being discussed. Using sport as a tool is not only effective in reaching masses, but it is the smart thing to do.