‘Protect the goal’: Raising HIV awareness through football

Jess Santillan, Renz Luigi Dahilig

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Globally, there are an estimated 5.4 million adolescents and young people living with HIV, and at least 1.8 million are eligible for HIV treatment

SPORTS AND HEALTH. The 'Protect the Goal' campaign aims to raise more awareness about HIV, especially among the youth. Photo from AFC

MANILA, Philippines – Globally, there are an estimated 5.4 million adolescents and young people living with HIV, and at least 1.8 million are eligible for HIV treatment.

There are a million other youths who do not know that they are living with HIV.

Every day, approximately 2,000 young people become newly-infected, accounting for about 36% of all new HIV infections in the world.

To help address the issue, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) together with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS  (UNAIDS) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) officially launched the “Protect the Goal” campaign in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on May 16 to promote HIV awareness and prevention.

First launched in 2010 for the FIFA World Cup, “Protect the Goal” is a football-based HIV prevention program that serves to tackle the risk of HIV transmission geared towards the youth in the region.

As football is one of the most popular sports among the youth, the project intends to apply its popularity as a tool to deliver messages to promote health, and comprises of behavioral change communications through the use of mainstream and social media.

The program aims to help reduce the rate of new HIV infections, which is critical to  reversing the epidemic on a global scale.

AFC Deputy General Secretary Dato’ Windsor John expressed the support of the confederation through some of its Southeast Asian member associations, namely Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines.

“We are proud to be a partner of UNAIDS and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in this most noble campaign. The objectives of the campaign are to use the popularity and power of football as the world’s most popular sport to unite the world towards the goal of an AIDS-free generation,” Dato’ Windsor said.

‘Protect the goal’

Michelle Gyles-McDonnough, the UN Resident Coordinator for Malaysia, spoke at the launch and shared that 12 countries account for more than 90% of new HIV infections in the region, which includes Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

“Through ‘Protect the Goal,’ we aim to engage with a wider range of young people and hope they will commit themselves to HIV prevention, and are willing to come forward for HIV testing as well as counselling,” Gyles-McDonnough explained.

The key to the demographic was 10 to 14 years old, to ensure that education on the dangers of HIV starts young.

The campaign will run its course, while leveraging on the support of the AFC’s sponsors and member associations, as well as fostering relationships with community and youth-based organizations.

“Protect the Goal” has been launched in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Malaysia, with the rest of Southeast Asia to have their campaign launches in the near future as well.

Among those who were also at the launch were Roswati Ghani, Executive Director of the Malaysian AIDS Council and Executive Secretary of the Malaysian AIDS Foundation; Hairudin Omar, president of the Malaysian Professional Footballers’ Association; Malaysian national player Amirizdwan Taj Tajuddin; and the young players from the Kuala Lumpur Youth Foundation Academy.  Rappler.com

Renz Luigi Dahilig and Jess Santillan are Rappler interns.

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