World AIDS Day: Promoting youth engagement and awareness through sports

World AIDS Day :

Significant access barriers to HIV prevention, testing, and treatment programmes still exist for young people. These inequities are supported by stigma, discrimination, harsh laws and policies, violence, and ingrained societal and gender inequalities that limit young people’s access to care and participation in society.

The opportunity presented by this year’s World AIDS Day, which has the theme “Equalize,” is to increase public awareness of the HIV-related injustices experienced by young people and to show creative approaches to disseminate HIV-related knowledge and services to them.

In Africa, youth are being educated and engaged in HIV and sexual and reproductive health rights information and services through sports that encourage inclusion and empowerment, particularly on football fields.

One such group is TackleAfrica, which runs programmes in ten African nations in the eastern, western, and southern areas, utilising the influence and appeal of football to provide these services to young people. A fun, interactive football session with built-in health messaging is used with players by qualified football coaches, game instructors, and community leaders. Players can get sexual health treatments, such as HIV testing, condoms and other forms of contraception, and referrals to other clinical services, during football practises and competitions.

A youth health initiative called Grassroot Soccer uses the popularity of soccer to provide young people with the knowledge, resources, and guidance they need to lead healthy lives.

“Our participants can come here any time they want. If things are not good at home, they can come here and talk to us. It’s a friendly environment for our participants where we use soccer as a tool to do different activities to give them life skills,” 

Judy, GRS Coach (South Africa).

“Kids come for soccer but end up leaving with knowledge about how to make better choices for themselves, their life, and their future,”

Musa, GRS Coach (South Africa).

One of the essential elements of high-quality adolescent health treatment is youth participation. It is crucial to support young people’s meaningful engagement and participation and to give them the tools they need to be the centre of attention when utilising services.

“Grassroot Soccer has helped me to realize that I have a hero inside me to help me overcome all challenges I am facing. I have learned that I don’t need society to choose a life for me, but I have the power to write my own story.”

Dennis Dube, Global Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Coordinator. Former SKILLZ Participant and Coach (South Africa).

The WHO organises the working group on adolescent service delivery, which gives organisations like Grassroots Soccer, TackleAfrica, and other adolescent-friendly and responsive service delivery models a stage to showcase effective strategies for engaging youth and to share best practices.

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