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  • Norman Brook

Sport still has a role to play in ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In her opening address at this year’s South African AIDS Conference Professor Refilwe Nancy Phaswana-Mafuya – who chairs the conference – said the event was happening at a “paradoxical time” as response to the epidemic was slowly weakening. She stated “Political will seems to be declining. A sense of urgency seems to have gotten lost. This conference is happening at a time when there are looming perceptions that the HIV epidemic is almost over, while we all know we have unacceptably high levels of HIV/Aids in South Africa and new infections are also high.”

Professor Phaswana-Mafuya comments align with a recent unease I have been feeling about the role of sport’s programmes who seem to have taken their foot of the accelerator when it comes to HIV Prevention education.

In the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Member States recognised sport as an important enabler of sustainable development, highlighting its growing contribution to the realisation of development and peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect. Sustainable Development Goal 3 speaks to healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages and includes the target of ending the epidemic of AIDS by 2030.

My feeling is that as treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS has improved there has been a falling investment in preventing the spread of the virus.

The 90-90-90 campaign perhaps rightly as taken centre stage whereas education programmes aimed at HIV prevention have move to the side of the stage. The 90-90-90 campaign is an ambitious treatment target to help end the AIDS epidemic. By 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy; and 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.

This test and treat strategy has seen AIDS related deaths fall from 250,000 per annum in 2006 to 100,000 per annum in 2016 and national life expectancy, rising from 61.2 years in 2010 to 67.7 years in 2015.

New infections have been falling year on year in South Africa since 2000 but remain far too high. Over 30 percent of all new HIV infections globally have been estimated to occur among adolescents. According to the Human Sciences Research Council, over 250,000 new HIV infections occur in South Africa annually. In the 15 to 24 years age group, it is estimated that there were 88,000 new cases of infection, three times higher in adolescent girls and young women than in adolescent boys and young men in the age group. Multiple biological and societal factors play a role in the transmission of the virus and young people, especially adolescent girls and young women are at high risk of contracting the virus.

Adolescent girls and boys, young women and men need can through sports programmes develop resilience and emotional intelligence as well as develop correct knowledge about HIV/AIDS and HIV prevention. HIV prevention was once at the centre of sport for development programmes in South Africa, but times have changed and many programmes that had a focus on HIV prevention have disappeared including the Kicking OUT Aids Network, GIZ Youth Development through Sport, and Coaching for Hope.

One of the programmes that remains is Grassroots Soccer who were one of the few sports-based health education programmes that attended this year’s South African AIDS Conference.  You can read about their contribution and reflections to the conference here.

Grassroot Soccer at SA AIDS: Talking Points and Takeaways

Perhaps now is the time for sport to refocus and see what we can to contribute to the elimination of AIDS epidemic by 2030. Here in South Africa where we still have 88,000 adolescents and young adults contracting the virus each year work needs to continue on HIV prevention and sport should be continuing to contribute to this effort.

Norman Brook is the author of a number of sport for development and peace resources including the GIZ Youth Development through Football HIV Prevention Manual and the GIZ Football4Life Manual that addresses Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights.

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