Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Global HIV Prevention Program Kicks Off in the Philippines

Wazzup Pilipinas!

The Global football-based HIV prevention campaign Protect the Goal headlined by the Philippine football national team, Azkals, and targeting youth at risk, will officially be launched in the Philippines on June 22, 2014 during the opening of the LoveYourself Anglo, a new free HIV testing community center along Shaw Boulevard near Ortigas.

Protect the Goal  has swept the world with its sports-oriented approach to promoting HIV testing and safer sex behavior. The campaign ultimately seeks to help lower the risk of HIV transmission among the Filipino youth, specifically among young Filipino men. In the Philippines, 71% of new infections since 1984 were in young people and that two-thirds of high risk young people actually do not know their HIV status.

First launched at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the campaign has since been replicated in other Southeast Asian countries, and has now been launched in the Philippines led by Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and local partner, the Philippine Football Federation. The campaign also draws multi-sectoral support from partners such as the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and advocacy group LoveYourself.

Azkals campaign

Protect the Goal hopes to reach out to young Filipino men through football, one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, and through role models they can look up to, professional football players .

Protect the Goal wants to tap into the convening power of football and the positive influence of the Azkals to promote HIV testing in the Philippines. Football has grown tremendously in the Philippines for the last few years and the AFC sees this as a good opportunity to help promote relevant causes such as HIV prevention,” says Urs Zanitti, regional coordinator for the Protect the Goal campaign in Asia.

“In the Philippines, most of the people who get infected are young men and we feel that many young men look up football players. We hope that through the example of the Azkals, we can encourage young Filipinos to take a more proactive stance in their health, especially in relation to HIV.”

Protect the Goal promotional materials will be visible during Azkals games. These should help encourage young football fans to take the HIV test through free clinics such as the new LoveYourself Anglo community center along Shaw Boulevard near Ortigas, or any other HIV testing centers.

Organizers partnered with LoveYourself to launch the campaign during the opening of the advocacy’s second community center, LoveYourself Anglo, which provides free and confidential HIV testing and counseling services primarily for young Filipino men. A 3-minute walk away from Starmall in Ortigas, LoveYourself Anglo is accessible to young people living in the center of Metro Manila who would want to take an HIV test, and will be serviced by trained volunteer counselors and government-funded medical professionals.

Youth at risk

ADB says the Protect the Goal campaign comes at a critical juncture in curbing the rise of HIV/AIDS infection among the youth in the Philippines and the region.

“While today’s generation of young people in the region is generally healthier and better educated than in the past, sexual and reproductive health and HIV are often overlooked aspects of their well-being. Added to this is that HIV/AIDS prevention and control programs often don’t reach young people,” says Dr. Susan Roth, senior social development specialist at ADB.

She says the Protect the Goal campaign will increase awareness among young men on risky behavior that will put them in danger of contracting HIV/AIDS. It will also educate them on prevention and testing options that are available to them.

UNAIDS says that while the world has made great leaps in fighting the spread of HIV, certain countries like the Philippines require special attention due to their alarming rate of new infections.

"Globally, progress has made in reducing the number of new HIV infections, getting people living with HIV on treatment and reducing stigma and discrimination. However, much still has to be done, including for the Philippines, one of nine countries reporting a disturbing trend of over 25% reported new infections since 2009,” says Bali Bagasao, country director at UNAIDS Philippines.

“We welcome the partnership with ADB and PFF to raise HIV awareness, encourage young people in particular to commit to HIV prevention; and to underscore the need to ensure that all people living with HIV who are eligible for life-saving antiretroviral treatment can access it by 2015."

Bagasao says the Philippine campaign is aligned with the Global campaign to ‘Protect the Goal’ launched by UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sdibe to get to zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths, through the power of football.

“There is something about the sport that brings people together. Football inspires camaraderie and teamwork. Getting a goal through in football is a huge challenge, but it can be done if players work together as a team. This is the same in the HIV prevention campaign. Preventing the spread of HIV is a big challenge, but if we all work together as a team, we can protect the goal of bringing new infections down to zero,” says Zanitti.

Positive peer influence

The campaign is also hoping to gain traction by tapping into the deep community bonds that form the fabric of Filipino society. Supporters who want to get involved in the campaign can take the HIV test and then use positive peer influence to encourage their friends to do the same.

“Young people influence each other and we hope to influence them through messages delivered by their peers, like the players of the national football team. If we can get them to get tested, we can give them advice on how to protect themselves from getting infected with HIV through the counseling process.”

“If people get tested, they can share their experience with their friends and peers and encourage them to get tested as well,” says Zanitti.

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