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The World Cup brings more than football to South Africa

18 June 2010

South African kids with a footballWith World Cup frenzy, South Africa is under a global spotlight the likes of which it hasn’t seen since the end of apartheid. But besides the tournament there is a lot more at stake than football fans might think.More than 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV and over five million of them are in South Africa.

In a country where one in five adults is infected, the South African Red Cross (SARC) is engaged in a daily struggle supporting the world’s largest caseload of people living with HIV.

Scaling up in KwaZulu-Natal

Farah Meghani, British Red Cross programme support officer for Africa, says: “We’ve been supporting the scaling up of HIV work in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province since 2005. Over the next five years, our fundraisers are aiming to raise £1 million each year to support and expand this work.”

In KwaZulu-Natal, the Red Cross is providing care and support for 9,000 people living with HIV, as well as 9,000 orphans and vulnerable children.

South African kids eatingDerick Naidoo, KwaZulu-Natal provincial manager, says: “Our volunteers often go to homes at 6am to help children – who have either no parents or just one bedridden parent – get ready for school. Many have nobody to care for them, nobody to even make them porridge.“We encourage them to apply for identity documents and access to social welfare. We also run after school clubs with activities which help address their trauma and encourage social development.”

An HIV time bomb

Out of nine provinces in South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal has the highest prevalence of HIV. Partly this is due to the trade route between the port city of Durban and Johannesburg running through the province. Historically, a major cause of the spread of HIV has been through truck drivers and sex workers.

The World Cup may also be exacerbating the problem with the influx of hundreds of thousands of tourists to South Africa. With a party atmosphere, involving soccer fans and alcohol, there is likely to be increased practice of unprotected sex.

Derick says: “The World Cup is seen not only as a boon for soccer fans but also for the sex work industry. In terms of HIV it is a potential time bomb. However, we spent a lot of time getting prepared and partnering with other organisations to address the issues.

“We’ve been going into truck stops and the communities that sex workers come from along the freeway. We distribute condoms and talk about preventing infection.”

Over the past couple of years this work has seen results, with increasing numbers of sex workers in South Africa using condoms. However, looking to the future a lot more needs to be done to engage young people in safer sexual behaviour and address cultural reluctance to use condoms.

Soccer attracts young volunteers

Several South Africa Red Cross volunteers in football kitsDerick says: “We have a group of young volunteers who are at the forefront of the response to HIV. To begin with it was a challenge getting them involved, because youth always believe they know everything.“But we realised what excites them is things like dancing, so we got them into dance clubs. They like soccer, so we got them involved in soccer tournaments. We bought them uniforms and football kits, so they have a sense of belonging. Most come from homes affected by HIV and now they are engaging their peers, speaking out in schools in communities about their experiences.”

Every minute of every day a child under 15 dies because of an AIDS-related illness. This summer the media spotlight is on South Africa and the international community has donated millions of condoms in a concerted effort to prevent the spread of HIV.

But in the long run it is those like the Red Cross volunteers who will really make a difference.

Watch our World Cup video

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