|Young people participate in a march to raise awareness about preventing HIV and AIDS along the streets of Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone.|
By Alusine Savage
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, 26 June 2008 – Sierra Leone’s Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Dr. Minkailu Bah, has launched a Manchester United-supported HIV/AIDS awareness campaign at the National Stadium in Freetown, the capital.
The campaign was organized by the National AIDS Secretariat (NAS) in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLAFA), UNICEF and the UK National Committee for UNICEF.
This is the first of such efforts undertaken by the Manchester United football club to address the HIV and AIDS pandemic, and is expected to serve as a launching pad for similar initiatives in Africa. The campaign was championed by Manchester players and UNICEF UK Ambassadors Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra.
|Youths wearing Manchester United T-shirts join the Freetown march against AIDS.|
'A significant initiative'
At the campaign launch on 21 June, Dr. Bah thanked Manchester United and UNICEF for what he called "a significant initiative" in the fight against one of the world's deadliest diseases. Dr. Bah noted that the impact of HIV and AIDS on young people is shattering, and HIV is robbing children of their parents, their hopes and, ultimately, their future.
"The government will support this initiative and ensure that its objectives are achieved in Sierra Leone," he said.
The excitement at the launch ceremony was palpable, as hundreds of young people gathered in a colourful parade to raise awareness about the pandemic. Among them were fans of the Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool football clubs, as well as members of local football clubs, schoolchildren, AIDS activist groups, and representatives from the military and police forces.
The event was launched simultaneously in all four regions of Sierra Leone and covered live by the national media.
In spite of the pouring rain that day, fans of Manchester United and Arsenal engaged in a keenly contested match, which ended in a 5-2 win for 'Man U'. NAS, Non-governmental organizations including CARE International, Right to Play and the Sierra Leone Red Cross, amongst others, distributed condoms, flyers and T-shirts to marchers and onlookers.
|Children wear shirts with the names of Manchester United stars Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra.|
An estimated that over 48,000 Sierra Leoneans are HIV positive. Most of them do not know that they are infected and may be infecting others unknowingly. Young people, especially between the ages of 15 to 24 years in Sierra Leone are the highest risk group, yet only 17 per cent of women and girls have comprehensive knowledge about HIV/AIDS.
Also contributing to the spread of the disease are poverty, illiteracy, harmful traditional and cultural practices, high population movements and limited access to social services such as schools, health care and recreation.
"UNICEF sees football and sports as a valuable educational tool, a universal language and central hub to convey potentially live-saving information to even hard-to-reach young people," said UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone Geert Cappelaere.
The assistance from Manchester United is seen as a timely investment in the national response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
"UNICEF Sierra Leone is proud to team up with Manchester United in a struggle against a ravaging disease." said UNICEF Sierra Leone HIV/AIDS Manager Macoura Oulare. "On our team, we need more wingers like Ryan Giggs and defenders like Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra to give children a fighting chance in this country."
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