Bangladeshi adolescents pad up to take on HIV and AIDS
22 February, 2011, Chittagong, Bangladesh: As Bangladesh gears up for the 2011 Cricket World Cup, the country’s young people are gearing up for a challenge of a different kind. Across Bangladesh, adolescents are using the World Cup spotlight to draw attention to important social issues: HIV and AIDS.
The message of awareness about the diseases is being spread across cricket pitches and schools in two of Bangladesh’s biggest cities, Dhaka and Chittagong.
On the pitch
Outside the Sher-e-Bangla stadium in the southern city of Chittagong, two amateur all-girl cricket teams battle it out before a large enthusiastic crowd. It’s the first time such a tournament has taken place in conservative Bangladesh, where young girls – particularly those from rural villages - are often expected to stay indoors and refrain from participation in social activities such as sport.
The players come from UNICEF-supported adolescent centers (or Kishori Clubs) across Chittagong and their peers are waiting for the match to finish before entertaining and informing the crowd with a performance about the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS.
The performance is part of UNICEF’s global THINKWSE campaign, which aims to raise awareness and dispel myths about the diseases. The campaign is supported by the Bangladeshi government, the International Cricket Council and UNICEF partner organisation Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC).
The play draws laughs and applause from the crowd, which is made up of young cricket players, parents and general members of the public who came to watch the match.
Across town at the Little Jewels High School in the southern city of Chittagong, the national cricket team’s mascot Stumpy, the elephant, entertains the students as part of a cricket quiz session. With him are 19-year-old Arju and 17-year-old Abdus, who have come to the school to give a presentation on HIV and AIDS.
Using placards, they talk about how the disease is spread and also address some of the negative stereotypes that surround those infected with HIV and AIDS.
The prevalence of both HIV and AIDS is low in Bangladesh but according to a 2008 UN report, only 16% of girls between the ages of 15 and 24 have a comprehensive knowledge of the diseases. Many young people believe that HIV can be spread by coughing, sneezing and sharing food. The THINKWSE campaign is slowly helping to change such misconceptions.
“I didn’t know much about HIV or AIDS. I thought that it was possible to catch HIV by touching people with the virus, but today I learned that HIV cannot be spread by touch,” said 15-year-old Raijan, a student at Little Jewels.
“We are too shy to talk about HIV/AIDS with our parents; I get most information on HIV from advertisements from the Indian television stations and the internet,” said 14-year-old Bonny.
While HIV education is part of the national school curriculum in Bangladesh, Arju and Abdus were taught about the diseases at their local Kishori club and their THINKWSE presentation is the first of its kind to bring HIV awareness to adolescents through peer-learning.
In order to broaden the message, the THINKWSE campaign has enlisted the help of high profile Bangladeshi cricketers such as Shakib Al Hassan to take the message to the general public.
With the media spotlight on Bangladesh during the Cricket World Cup, it’s hoped the event will go some way towards helping prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS across Asia.