Feature story

Cricket stars raise awareness about HIV in South Africa

26 October 2009

A version of this story was first published on unicef.org

20091022_cricket1_200.jpg
Lasith Malinga, a star player on the Sri Lanka Champions Trophy cricket team, gives a mini-bowling clinic to a group of children in the UNICEF-supported ECHO adolescent development programme in Katlehong Township, South Africa Credit: UNICEF South Africa/2009/Ingham-Brown

Famous Sri Lankan cricketers Kumar Sangakkara, Angelo Mathews, Chamara Kapugedera and Lasith Malinga recently visited young people living with HIV at the WITSECHO Adolescent Sprint Holiday Programme near Johannesburg, South Africa.

The visit took place at the Katlehong Art Centre. It was organised in collaboration with ECHO – a local UNICEF partner that helps provide antiretroviral therapy for some 10,000 South African children – and with the THINK WISE global partnership between the International Cricket Council (ICC), UNAIDS, UNICEF and the Global Media AIDS Initiative.

The THINK WISE partnership works to educate cricket players, coaches, commentators, broadcasters, volunteers and spectators about the AIDS epidemic and HIV prevention.

Raising awareness

THINK WISE is a pioneering partnership which brings anti-AIDS messages home in innovative ways and its ambassadors are doing a great job.

Catherine Sozi, UNAIDS country coordinator for South Africa

Following a spirited fielding session, the cricketers heard from the staff and young people at the youth programme about the work it does to help adolescents develop life skills. The programme trains peer educators to encourage HIV prevention by building the self-esteem and confidence of other young people – and thereby help them make responsible choices.

Most of the children in attendance had contracted HIV from their mothers, who either did not know that they were HIV-positive when they were pregnant or did not have access to treatment that could have prevented them from transmitting the virus to their children.

“It is fantastic to be here today to see firsthand the work that local partners carry out to tackle HIV,” Mr. Sangakkara said, speaking as an ambassador of THINK WISE and the cricketing community. “The work that this programme does has a real impact on the life of these young people and gives me great hope,” he added.

Protection, respect and fairness

20091022_cricket2_200.jpg Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara chats with children in Katlehong Township
Credit: UNICEF South Africa/2009/Ingham-Brown

“I hope that young people living with HIV can grow up without discrimination and can lead fruitful lives,” said Mr. Mathews. “The young people I have met today are an inspiration, and I hope more people across the world will be able to make informed decisions as they grow up.”

The goals of THINK WISE include encouraging youths to protect themselves and others, and to show respect and fairness to people living with HIV.

“Protection, respect and fairness – these are all values which cricketers easily relate to in our own sport,” said Mr. Malinga.

Catherine Sozi, UNAIDS country coordinator for South Africa, welcomed the visit. “We really appreciated the cricketers taking time to meet young people living with HIV and helping to raise awareness about key issues such as prevention and stigma and discrimination. THINK WISE is a pioneering partnership which brings anti-AIDS messages home in innovative ways and its ambassadors are doing a great job.”

South Africa bears a heavy AIDS burden with an estimated 5.7 million people living with HIV, some 280,000 of whom are children under the age of 15. There are also around 1.4 million children under 17 who have been orphaned due to AIDS.