South African AIDS organizations have had limited success in getting FIFA to allow them to distribute condoms and HIV education materials during the World Cup.
FIFA has refused to allow them to operate at football stadiums, but they will be allowed at some other locations. The AIDS Consortium and other groups had called on FIFA to allow full access, saying it was the organization’s “moral obligation” to do so.
Rhulani Lehloka, communications manager for the AIDS Consortium in Braamfontein, says, “Basically, one of the issues really is that if we are going to be pushing for HIV prevention, then we need to look at it as a holistic approach, part of which includes condom distribution.”
The AIDS Consortium, the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society and others say that holistic approach should include access to World Cup football venues.
“So the issue really was that we need to make condoms as available as possible and in as many places as possible,” she says.
Front line of the AIDS fight
It’s estimated that 5.7 million people in South Africa are living with HIV/AIDS.
“The (HIV) prevalence rate in our country is the highest in the world. And we have the interests of the visitors at heart, but we’re also having the interests of the people of South Africa at heart,” she says.
As a result of the groups’ formal request to FIFA asking for stadium access, the world football governing body has responded. But not in the way the groups wanted.
“There are a few places that have been allocated now,” she says, “There are places that will be serving as fan parks during the World Cup. And some of those places have been earmarked to have a health center or wellness center in them. And so…we can distribute condoms in those places.”
She says they’ll do everything possible to distribute condoms, short of setting up shop at the stadiums, as “vigorously as we can.”
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to travel to South Africa for the World Cup.
“I think it’s not really only a problem for the people who will be coming for the World Cup, but the people that are within the country still. So it really is a concern. I won’t shy away from that,” she says.
The fear is that ground will be lost in slowing the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Lehloka says, “So far, we’ve made such strides in responding to HIV. And that it really is pulling us back in terms of responding to HIV. I think so far we’ve done so well with government showing leadership…(and) the response that we want to see involving different sectors in responding to HIV.”
But she adds, “Now, here, I think is an issue that we really need to fight.”
Awareness and prevention
When it comes to the World Cup, Lehloka says, “The issue about it is safety first. So…when you do distribute condoms, then you are sending a particular message. And the message that you are sending is that people should really look after themselves.”
She says condoms should be made readily available for those “engaging in sexual activities.”
“So it would make it easier to make (condoms) accessible at the stadiums,” she says, “But failing…we must make (them) available in other places.”