Uganda

Protect the Goal: How football is transforming HIV/AIDS awareness in Karamoja

The crowds and guests have abandoned their comfortable seats and everyone is stretching the last parts of their bones to catch a glimpse of that nail biting part of the game – the penalties.

It’s the finals of the Karamoja Protect the Goal  youth tournament where Napak District is taking on  Moroto District. The first two  spot kicks  for either team  are successful until all hell breaks loose for one team.

The Moroto goalkeeper  makes a couple of daring saves and starts chest thumping like King Kong. Meanwhile, the same can’t be said for the Napak goalkeeper, who fails to stop two shots which flat foot him  and  find their way at the back of the net to leaving his teammates crestfallen.

A few minutes later, the Moroto team is declared winner of the 2016 Protect the Goal tournament amidst wild ululations and jubilation from the supporters after the guest of honor hand s the trophy and prizes  to the winning captain.He is flanked by officials from UN in Uganda and AIDS Information Center (AIC).

“Protect the Goal is a campaign using the popularity and convening power of sports to unite Ugandans towards the goal of an AIDS-free generation.” Mrs. Sheila Birungi the Executive Director of AIC states. “Football is a very popular game which is fun, engaging and entertaining most especially for the young people.” She further explains.

The two football teams in action. (Photo by Reach A Hand, Uganda)

The two football teams in action. (Photo by Reach A Hand, Uganda)

Using football in replacement for the didactic curriculums which do not appeal to the young minds is refreshing and very much needed. This allows the curriculum like on HIV/AIDS to be appealing  to young people. For various reasons- not only because they are fun, but because youth can be reached easily with the youth related programs on HIV/AIDS awareness.

The campaign therefore raises awareness around HIV prevention and encourage young people and all Ugandans to get actively involved in both the national and global response to HIV and support the UNAIDS’ ambitious target of 90-90-90 by 2020.

This target aims at ensuring that 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.

Most young people love soccer an using it as a tool for behavior change communication is key

Most young people love soccer an using it as a tool for behavior change communication is key. (photo by Reach A Hand, Uganda)

Of course this wouldn’t have been happening if HIV/AIDS didn’t have significant impact in Africa. HIV is a huge public health problem across the African continent, with some countries having over 15% of their population infected.

In Uganda to be more specific, the situation remains not one to smile about. According to the 2014 Uganda HIV and AIDS Country Progress report, In 2013, an estimated 1.6 million people were living with HIV, and an estimated 63,000 Ugandans died of AIDS-related illnesses. As of 2013, the estimated HIV prevalence among adults aged 15 to 49 stood at 7.4%.

In the Karamoja region, the Uganda Health Demographic Survey 2006 put the HIV/AIDS prevalence in Karamoja at 3.5 %. By 2014, the rates had just escalated to 5.3%,  from 3.5 % in 2006, compared to the national HIV/AIDS prevalence rate which stood  at 7.4%. This is according to the 2014 National Housing and Population Report.

New strategies have to be employed to reduce on the HIV prevalence rates in the region which calls for a lot of work to do which is possible. For example Reach A Hand, Uganda through the Karamoja Connect program supported by UNFPA Uganda, is empowering young people in Karamoja to use ICT and mentorship to learn about sexual and reproductive health (SRH) processes in their communities and become youth advocates.

Football has become a vital instrument for hundreds of social development programmes run by non-governmental and community-based organisations around the world. Programs like Protect The Goal can provide young people with valuable tools to actively make a difference in their own lives. By addressing the most pressing issues in each community like HIV/AIDS, the programmes can contribute to positive social change not only in Karamoja region and Uganda, but also on a global scale.

Hon. Moses Kisige, Minister of State for Karamoja handing over the trophy to the captain of Moroto team

Hon. Moses Kisige, Minister of State for Karamoja handing over the trophy to the captain of Moroto team. (photo by Reach A Hand, Uganda)

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