It was a unique scene at the football academy at Kingtom as journalists were briefed on the Manchester United supported HIV/AIDS campaign in Sierra Leone in which three Manchester players Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Ryan Giggs have decided to come on board to combat this global pandemic.
The program will be launched on Saturday at the National stadium in the morning hours.
Dr Momodu Sesay the team leader ARG/MOHS in his statement said the national prevalence rate is 1.5%. For females it is 1.6% and males it is 1.5%. In actual fact he disclosed there is an estimated 38,000 people living with HIV presently in Sierra Leone.
Comparing the 2002 national prevalence of 0.9% to the 2005 there is over 60 percent increase in the rate of infection. Our Ante-natal Clinic Sentinel Surveillance for pregnant women is also showing a rise in the rate of the infection among the general population he stated.
He went further that in 2003 the ANC survey result was 2.9%, in 2005 it was 4.1% and in 2007 the result is 4.4% and 1.6%. That is about 3 in every 200 young persons within the ages of 15 and 24 are likely to be HIV positive according to the 2005 study.
An estimated 5,300 children aged 0-14 years are HIV positive he disclosed. Dr Sesay further mentioned that you would agree with me that this age group is the most appropriate in sports events especially football.
He noted that “besides that you can disagree with me, but I am of the strong opinion that this very age group 15 to 24 years is where the energy for vibrant club support and sympathy belongs. Why because they can argue about their teams and clubs the whole day long on an empty stomach a thing you and I may not likely be able to do. Therefore it is but fitting that we try to prevent the spread among them” he said.
Dr Momodu stated that football being the most popular sports and Manchester United being a famous club and loved by several young people, “we hope, will help with this HIV/AIDS campaign to influence our young people to live a positive and responsible life in so far as it relates to HIV prevention.”
Dr Momodu Sesay ended by thanking UNICEF and the Manchester United Football Club in England and the Fan club in Sierra Leone for the initiative and support.
UNICEF’s Edmund Makiu the HIV/AIDS specialist in his own contribution said that since his three years in Sierra Leone this is the most important press briefing that he has attended, saying that he feels very proud to be at the football academy. He said not too long ago somebody asked him if UNICEF was not going to have a football team that will take part in the premier league next year. He remarked that “UNCIEF is associated with football as you all know, couple of years ago we had Barcelona to wear UNICEF on each and every Barcelona shirt. If I can think of a UNIECF soccer team I can have all the players from Barcelona including David Beckham who was here few months ago as UNIECF good will ambassador, to be on the ground to see the Manchester United football club specifically chose Sierra Leone to launch its HIV/AIDS awareness campaign.
The partnership he explained started in 2006 when the Manchester United football club donated funds to UNICEF in Sierra Leone. He mentioned that Ministry of Education Youth and Sports and the National AIDS Secretariat have participated fully with UNICEF in this initiative. The campaign is fully centered on football and sports and the Freetown launch will be replicated in all the regional headquarters to carry out a thorough drive towards a wholesome awareness in young people about HIV/AIDS.
He stated that UNICEF believes that through sport and play we can reach the audience of youth and children. UNICEF sees football and sports as a valuable educational tool, a universal language to convey potentially life-saving information to hard-to reach young people.
The Secretary General of the Sierra Leone Football Association Alimu Bah also made vital contributions to the programme.
The Chairman of the programme Abu Bakarr Koroma of NAS said that the press is invited to join the campaign and the focus is to see how we can use sports in this case Manchester United the Champions of England to take the message to young people to see how they can behave themselves positively so that they can prevent themselves from HIV/AIDS.
He went further that the role of the press is to help preach out the message and also be a partner to fight HIV/AIDS.