ONE OF THE HURDLES IN THE FIGHT AGAINST HIV/AIDS IN AFRICA IS STIGMATISATION. AS THE WORLD AIDS DAY APPROACHES, FRIENDS AFRICA, AN ORGANISATION AT THE VANGUARD OF FIGHT AGAINST HIV/AIDS, MALARIA AND TUBERCULOSIS oN THE CONTINENT AGAIN PLANS TO USE SPORTS TO CHAMPION THIS vision THIS YEAR, EX-FOOTBALL INTERNATIONALS AND THOSE IN ENTERTAINMENT WILL ON THAT DAY ENGAGE IN A NOVELTY MATCH IN LAGOS.
That HIV / AIDS are real is no longer news and in doubt; rather what faces the fight against HIV / AIDS amongst other things is the challenge of stigmatisation. Friends of the Global Fund Africa (Friends Africa), a pan-African, non-governmental organisation based in Nigeria, and working to mobilise strategic political and financial support for the fight against AIDS, TB and Malaria through advocacy, technical assistance, documentation and capacity building, has decided to confront stigmatisation headlong by exploring the natural power of sports-football.
This it hopes to achieve by organising the launch of the second edition of the World AIDS Day 'Superstars Play for Life' anti-stigma and discrimination campaign. The campaign, which is targeted at over two million people, leverages the love and power of football by Nigerians to draw attention to the stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS.
The novelty match, which comes up on November 30, a day before the World Aids Day celebration, will bring together over 3,000 spectators and 300 persons living with HIV to witness the selfless display of renowned football players and Nigeria's entertainment industry playing against each other to draw attention to the issue.
The first edition held last year saw ex-internationals like Jay-Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, Daniel Amokachi, Celestine Babayaro, Emmanuel Babayaro, Jonathan Akpoborie, Mobi Oparaku, Ben Akwuegbu and Emeka Ezeugo, trade tackles with a team of entertainers like M.I, Sound Sultan, Afeez Oyetoro (Saka), Segun Arinze, Fred Amata, Nonso Diobi, John Njamah, Dr. Sid, Uti Nwachukwu and many more, with former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon as special guest.
According to Dr. Akudo Anyanwu-Ikemba, founder/CEO of Friends Africa, "we are galvanising efforts of new and old stakeholders, (civil societies, private sector and government) to advocate for an end to stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS. It is hoped that these efforts will help stem the tide of discrimination."
Ex-Nigerian international and Friends Africa Goodwill Ambassador, Emmanuel Babayaro who led the ex-internationals, last year, said "stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV / AIDS is the biggest challenge facing the eradication of this pandemic. The fear of being ostracised or kicked out of employment doesn't create an enabling environment for people to boldly accept treatment or attempt to know their status. This is why we call on all players to join us in the global fight".
For the community for people living with HIV/AIDS the cause of stigma and discrimination is taken with seriousness and shows that they can get love and support from every sector in Nigeria if effort is put into it. Mr. Ibrahim Umoru, the leader of Lagos Chapter of People Living with HIV / AIDS, stated that "the initiative by Friends Africa is a very good one and he is always willing and supportive of such campaigns; I thank Friends Africa for making this happen."
At the first edition of World AIDS Day 'Superstars Play for Life last year,' Friends Africa facilitated the distribution of information, education and communication (IEC) materials on HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and treatment at the event; as well as successfully mobilising over 30 celebrities, ex-super eagles star and entertainers, and over 200 People living with HIV to mark the World AIDS day in support of the global theme of Zero Stigma And Discrimination.
As the second edition draws near, Babayaro and his team are working hard to expand their reach in terms of more international participation. "HIV / AIDS is worldwide and so we intend to get more international and world stars involved in this campaign. I can confirm that we are in touch with Zinadane Zidane, Samuel Eto'o, Didier Drogba, Patrick Viera and others. We are hoping they will responding positively by confirming attendance," he emphasised.
A lot needs to be achieved in this year's edition according to Maureen Ezeigbo, communications manager, Friends Africa: "we hope to achieve 100 per cent increase in awareness creation from last year's, reaching at least two million Africans with the message of Zero HIV/AIDs Stigma and Discrimination through multiple information, education and communication channels. About 500 per cent Increase in number of persons reached with HIV counseling and testing, prevention messages and health education through a week long voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) campaign".
Friends Africa hopes to Increase the participation of entertainers, celebrities and football stars who are advocates in the fight against HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, increase the number of private sector organisations, civil societies, media houses and government parastatals showing their support and advocating against the stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Several corporate bodies have been partners from last year's event. They include but not limited to Access Bank, GSK, Coca-Cola, FCMB, Exxon Mobil, SO & U, Owu Sports Wear, Cool FM, Jobberman, SportSday, Global Fund amongst others, who have identified the need for more public-private engagements in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
For GSK, Mrs. Akeem-Adesina Omolara, human resource director: "we are proudly part of this event because we understand firsthand that the long term sustainability of this project will greatly impact the lives of Nigerians and most importantly the community of people living with HIV/ AIDS".
The desire of sponsors is fuelled from the need to partner an organisation like Friends Africa who are leading the fight against HIV/AIDS very topical issue to ensure they are further equipped with all that is needed to drive change and provide much needed information to a large number of people within the Nigerian polity.
Mrs. Akeem-Adesina asserted that "the event is aligned with GSK's vision, which is to help people do more, feel better and live longer. We believe that once the issue of stigma is addressed, the platform is then created for them to live healthier lives".
Friends Africa whose work is implemented through four pillars of advocacy, capacity building, documentation and technical assistance, is governed by credible and influential board of directors from across Africa who are committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS, TB, and Malaria, some of which include former Head of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon, First Lady of Rwanda, Madame Jeannette Kagame and Mr. Chris Kirubi of Kenya.
Over the years, Friends Africa has trained over 2700 SMEs in Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda and Zambia on Workplace Policies Development for AIDS, TB and Malaria, as well as made public several leading advocacy publications in the fight against AIDS, TB and Malaria.
Through their technical assistance hub, Friends Africa has helped seven African countries (Burundi, Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria and Zambia) to secure funding in the Global Fund's round eight and nine grants for the fight against AIDS, TB and Malaria.
For all these efforts, according to Ezeigbo, "Friends Africa has received several local and international awards, some of which include the Rockefeller foundation amongst the "World Top 100 Next Century Innovators", Winner, Stevie Non-Profit of the Year 2012, finalist One Africa Award 2012.
From all indications, the second edition of the World AIDS Day 'Superstars Play for Life' will require more stakeholder participation. For instance, with the first edition, more people living with HIV/AIDS are now coming out considering the love showered on them following the success of the first edition.
No doubt, an international event of this magnitude will require some funding, and this is where more corporate bodies are expected to sign up for a good reason on issues concerning the society, and for government to leave up to its billing else all these commitments from the entertainers, ex-internationals, Friends Africa, sponsors like GSK and Access Bank would come to naught if we are not able to leverage from the success so far.