Kicking off to kick out HIV in Swaziland

Published: 26 January 2014 15:29 CET

Nontobeko Dlamini, Baphalali Swaziland Red Cross Society

On soccer pitches across Swaziland players aren’t just kicking around a ball. They are playing to kick-out the deadly HIV epidemic.

The Knock Out Challenge is a soccer tournament organized by the Baphalali Swaziland Red Cross Society (BSRCS) to help combat HIV in Swaziland, which has the highest rate of the deadly epidemic in the world. In order to qualify for the tournament, both players and spectators have to be tested for HIV.

While 26.5 per cent of the population is living with HIV/AIDS in Swaziland, stigma still exists for many people with the disease. As a result they often do not get tested for HIV/AIDS, for fear of being socially ostracized by their communities.

“It is frightening to test for HIV/AIDS. We would rather not know our status,” said Phumlani Mangwe, who played in the tournament. “But initiatives like this tournament allow us to approach the issue more openly and be less scared. It also encourages us to approach our peers about getting tested on a lighter note.” 

With young men tending to refrain from testing for HIV much more than women, soccer is seen as a good way to target them and support their participation in HIV/AIDS counselling and testing. “Sport is universal, but it particularly attracts young men,” said Cliff Ndlovu, BSRCS youth coordinator. “We therefore decided that this would be the best way to get them together and talking about health issues and playing while at it.”

Through the Knock Out Challenge, over 211 men and 39 women were tested for HIV. BSRCS plans to continue to roll out the tournament across the country to reach as many people as possible.

“It has been a huge achievement. Scores of young and adult men have come out to play, had a great time and more importantly felt safe and confident to get tested for HIV,” said Danger Nhlabatsi, Secretary General, BSRCS. “The long term impact of this, from a game as simple as soccer, is huge.”