Fancy footwork teaches teens more about HIV

It’s difficult to go anywhere in South Africa without getting caught up in football fever these days. The 2010 FIFA World Cup is entering the quarterfinal stage this week and I have to admit that the football bug has bitten me in a big way – even though I was never a football fan before.

© Baikong MAMID

Now I am glued to my seat every time there is a match on television and I have even taken to wearing a South African football jersey on a “Football Fridays”. The only thing I am still struggling to assimilate is an expert understanding football rules! But a recent visit to Khayelitsha, a vast township on the outskirts of Cape Town with more than 500,000 inhabitants and where nearly one adult in three is HIV positive, has given me a different sense of South Africa during the World Cup. Despite the poverty and the high burden of HIV and TB co-infection , life goes on here in Khayelitsha (meaning “new home” in locally spoken Xhosa). People here celebrate life and soccer in their own little ways – like at the Youth Festival held at the Bulumko School recently. The festival was organised by Khayelitsha Youth Forum in collaboration with partner organisations including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Youth AIDS, Simelela Centre and many other community organisations. Hundreds of children and youths joined in singing, dancing and taking part in community drama and choir performances. These activities were all intended to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among young people, and to promote HIV prevention programmes and youth health services available in Khayelitsha. Here teens can undergo HIV counselling and testing, learn more about antiretroviral therapy, sexual reproductive health education, support sessions and even learn life-skills and more about HIV/AIDS through a grassroots soccer initiative. Lerato MHLWAWULI caught my eye as the 6-year old girl became the undisputed queen of the stage as she swayed to the rhythms and beat in a totally uninhibited display of her dancing skills. She looks tiny and cute, but her confidence and talent shone through with every step of her stunning performance. Of all the performers she got the loudest cheers from the audience. Nonledo BULANA of Youth AIDS beamed with pride as she hugged Lerato tightly. “We at Youth AIDS make a difference by focusing on HIV prevention efforts among children and young people aged 7 to 25. I believe that it is important to empower children and the youth by educating them about HIV/AIDS and understanding their bodies. We do this because they are the future, and hold the key to one day an HIV/AIDS free society,” Nonledo explained. I also managed to speak to Dr Carolina Malavazzi GALVÃO, an MSF doctor from Brazil working in the Khayelithsa Youth Clinic. Initially we spoke about her frustration at the Brazilian football squad’s first game in the World Cup and how football is way of life Brazilians no matter where they are. But she told me why the Youth Festival is important: “It is vital that HIV programmes integrate different youth services to prevent HIV from spreading, especially among young people. Here in Khayelitsha adherence to HIV treatment among children and the youth is very low. Many patients stop going to the clinics. We need to educate their parents or guardians, so that children will understand why it is essential to continue their treatment and to seek support initiatives that can help them cope with their HIV status.” I was happy to hear that these youth oriented initiatives help to give young people more answers about how to fight HIV and that the next Youth Festival will take place in the centres in the area where many kids hang out. Now, if only I can find some extra-time to untangle the mystery of football rules before the World Cup final. Any volunteer to coach me? Baikong MAMID, Communications Officer, MSF South Africa
About World Cup feature World Cup feature is an internet blogging experience with first account stories of field workers and staff of  international humanitarian medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) conducted during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, from June 7th to July 14th, 2010. The main objective of World Cup feature is to provide the worldwide audience an alternate view on the first FIFA World Cup in the African soil and to share positive chronicles of the Southern African region’s struggle to fight the dual epidemics of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. World Cup feature will include narrative, still pictures and short videos coming from countries where MSF field workers provide care to people suffering from HIV and tuberculosis, from Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and other places in the world. HALFTIME!, a one-day HIV positive patients soccer tournament organised by MSF in Johannesburg, South Africa on July 2nd, will also be featured. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the World Cup feature are those of the authors or the persons interviewed and can not be considered or quoted as MSF’s official position on the matters concerned.