When Africa's equivalent of the Super Bowl kicked off recently, millions of young male soccer fans were urged to "Play for Life" and prevent HIV/AIDS infection.
The "Play for Life/Jouer Pour la Vie" campaign was officially launched at the start of the 23rd African Cup of Nations, the continent's largest sporting event, which is taking place in Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Burkina Faso. The campaign is part of the Caring Understanding Partners program, which has been using sporting venues to reach young males in 10 African countries since 1998.
The Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, provided technical assistance to the local ministries of health, ministries of youth and sports, local nongovernmental organizations and other international donors to develop this campaign.
"It is crucial to reach as many young men as possible because AIDS is hitting African youth hard," said JHU/CCP's director, Jane Bertrand. "Our research shows that the Play for Life campaign will be seen by large audiences of young males that either attend national soccer games or watch them on community television sets."
National soccer players have been trained and will serve as spokespeople and role models in Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Mali. Players will develop a "game plan" detailing how they protect themselves from HIV/AIDS and will encourage fans to develop their own personal game plan for a healthy future. For example, a player could promise in his game plan to use a condom, remain faithful to one partner or to abstain from sex until married.
In addition to participating in events and providing materials at national soccer games, the campaign will produce radio and television spots featuring popular soccer players. Also, players will promote HIV prevention messages in interviews with the local media and in personal appearances at youth clubs and schools.
Since soccer is extremely popular in east and central Africa, the campaign hopes to reach a wide audience. Research shows that young males are not taking steps to reduce their risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. For example, less than one-third of the young men ages 15 to 24 in Nigeria and Ghana report using a condom in their last sexual encounter. AIDS is the leading cause of death in Africa. According to the latest figures from the United Nations, more than 70 percent of the world's young people infected with HIV/AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa.