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The World Cup's fight against AIDS: Fact or fiction?

By Ben Wyatt, CNN
  • The World Cup was seen as the perfect platform to promote safe sex and increase awareness
  • The general secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), felt let down by FIFA
  • FIFA refutes the claims, saying HIV information will be distributed during the World Cup

(CNN) -- Editor's notes: In the first of three articles, CNN reports on social initiatives that have played a prominent role, and that have been at the center of debate, at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. In part one we look at AIDS awareness in the Rainbow Nation and whether football's world governing body FIFA is delivering on its promise.

When South Africa was named host nation of the inaugural African World Cup, organizers were keen to stress how the tournament would leave a legacy for the country and the continent.

Sepp Blatter, the president of world football's governing body FIFA, said: "This World Cup has to be about ... legacy. Bringing boys and girls together, organizing schooling and health education, providing the tools and the incentive to fight against poverty and disease -- that is the legacy we want to leave."

Six million people live with HIV in South Africa, which accounts for one in 10 of the domestic population, according to UNICEF figures gathered in 2007.

These statistics compare to figures of 2.6 million living with HIV in Nigeria (one person in every 58,) and 1.2 million people in the United States (one person in every 256.)

The tournament was seen by many as the perfect platform to promote safe sex and increase awareness and education about a disease that is, to a large degree, still a taboo subject in the region.

South African president Jacob Zuma publically revealed he had tested negative for HIV earlier this year in order to extend the debate on the problem.

"The purpose is to promote openness and to eradicate the silence and stigma that accompanies this epidemic," he told reporters in April.

Is the World Cup helping to address South Africa's AIDS epidemic:

No ...

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"This World Cup has to be about ... legacy. Bringing boys and girls together, organizing schooling and health education, providing the tools and the incentive to fight against poverty and disease.
--Sepp Blatter
  • South Africa
  • HIV and AIDS
  • FIFA

Vuyiseka Dubula -- the general secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a body that lobbies for the rights of HIV/AIDS sufferers -- told CNN she had felt let down by FIFA.

"We have not seen a single campaign publicly and I'm talking about on radio and television where people are educated around prevention, access to condoms and testing. They have failed dismally.

"I would say to Sepp Blatter ... try at least to meet with the society and what we can do as organizations. Let us distribute condoms in front of the stadiums like Soccer City because it attracts thousands of people," Dubula told CNN on June 17.

Richard Delate -- the country program director for Johns Hopkins Health and Education in South Africa -- echoed Dubula's concern to CNN.

"In our country there is a high correlation between alcohol consumption and unprotected sex. There has been no distribution of condoms at the FIFA Fan Fests [where] there's a large amount of alcohol being sold.

"We say there should be condoms available, so that if people do choose to have sex they can protect themselves from HIV. They have not allowed local NGOs to distribute information in Fan Fests, only to NGOs who would pay," Delate told CNN on June 23.

Yes ...

FIFA denied such claims to CNN saying in a statement: "As part of the HIV Counseling and Testing Campaign, millions of condoms and HIV information will be distributed during the World Cup."

FIFA said it would be broadcasting HIV-prevention messages and adverts for Durex condoms on the giant Fan Fest screens in both the Johannesburg and Pretoria locations, they also denied that any NGO needed to pay to gain access to the Fan Fest sites.

"FIFA encouraged the ... main organizers of the Fan Fests to install a "Fan Service Area" where ... condoms can be distributed for free. To reduce the risk of tourists contracting HIV during the World Cup, basic information about sexually transmitted infections will be freely available and free condoms will be distributed," FIFA added in a statement.

The "Football for Hope Festival" is an event that will take place in the township of Alexandra, Johannesburg at the beginning of July. FIFA said this tournament, by bringing together 32 delegations of young people from disadvantaged communities around the world, would help tackle social issues such as HIV/AIDS education in South Africa.

What we found ...

At both FIFA Fan Fests that CNN visited, free condoms were provided by the city health department of Johannesburg. At the Fan Fest in Pretoria, safe sex information pamphlets were available while in Soweto a mobile clinic to test for HIV was also provided.

The four nurses who worked each day with the mobile unit stationed at the township fan area estimated they had screened around 60 people a day since the start of the tournament.

Adverts urging spectators to get tested for HIV ran at half time on the big screens in both the Pretoria and Soweto Fan fests. Condom packs were free to take from toilet areas at both Soccer City and Ellis Park stadiums when CNN visited.

At each game attended so far, promotion of the AIDS adverts has been sporadically aired. No public campaign has been broadcast on domestic radio or television.

When CNN went back to Delate with the findings, he said: "It is evident that FIFA has noted our concerns and that action was undertaken to ensure that this happened." Both FIFA and the Johannesburg Health Department confirmed the facilities had been in place since the start of the World Cup.

Bianca Bothma also contributed to this report.

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