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International News

South Africa: Playing Soccer, and Talking HIV

June 15, 2010

In a country that has the world's highest number of HIV-positive residents, a nascent soccer league in South Africa's Mpumalanga Province is simultaneously honing athletic skills and fighting disease.

The league is home to some 2,500 boys on 160 teams in under-14 and under-17 divisions. The league covers a region on South Africa's eastern border where 65 percent of residents between 18 and 34 are believed to be HIV-positive.

The players receive more than coaching. In weekly sessions, medical workers give instruction on HIV, domestic violence, and similar topics. Plays, songs, dance, and poetry from an improvisational drama troupe address everyday social challenges. A handful of girls have started taking the health classes and inquired about joining a team.

"It's a way to address something that nobody wants to talk about through a game that everybody loves," said Sarah Kate Noftsinger, executive director of the league's umbrella organization, Triad Nkomazi Rush.

An American youth soccer organization, Rush, provides uniforms to teams with perfect attendance, but players have to keep attending classes to keep them.

HIV testing is offered and encouraged. A goal of the program is to have everyone in the league tested every 90 days.

A local seven-member executive committee oversees the league's scheduling, finances, marketing, and medical education. The goal is a self-sustaining infrastructure in this area with 60 to 90 percent unemployment.

"Triad Nkomazi Rush is trying to make people see that a person with HIV is not the enemy," said Paul Makofane, deputy director of sports advancement in the province. "And they are transferring skills, so we won't have to rely on the mother programs from the United States. We can run our own," he said.

Back to other news for June 2010

Adapted from:
New York Times
06.11.2010; Jere Longman

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More on HIV Prevention in South Africa

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