Youth League Fights AIDS With Soccer

MAWEWE, South Africa — Far from the World Cup, in this poor, rural village where there are no paved roads, no nets on the goals and no shoes for many of the players, Clement Nkala, 17, sat in a chair in his soccer uniform and held out his finger to be pricked for an H.I.V. test.

In a country where 5.7 million people are infected with the virus that causes AIDS — the most in the world — the problem is particularly acute here in the Nkomazi district of Mpumalanga Province, near South Africa’s eastern border with Swaziland and Mozambique.

Medical workers estimate that 65 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 in this area, slightly smaller in size than Rhode Island, carry H.I.V. and that 5,000 to 8,000 children under the age of 5 have been orphaned.

“I am thinking of my future,” Nkala said Saturday afternoon. “It is important to know your status.”

Sarah Kate Noftsinger seemed pleased and startled. A player volunteering to be tested in the open, with his friends playing nearby, would not have happened in this remote district 15 months ago, when she started a youth soccer league that has expanded to five villages and 2,500 boys on 160 teams in under-14 and under-17 divisions.

In this culture, parents seldom talk to their children about sex, medical workers said. Many are afraid to be tested for H.I.V., fearing that they might get their fingers pricked one day and die the next. Denial can be more comforting than the stress of knowing. Admission carries the risk of being shunned by a family, by an entire community. Nkala was a breakthrough.

“This is a big step,” said Noftsinger, 29, of Richmond, Va., who is director of sports and leadership for Triad Trust, a Boston-based charity that seeks to reduce AIDS-related deaths.

Subduing H.I.V. in this region of 500,000 people will not happen soon, it is universally agreed. But this is another fledgling attempt, by creating a sports league and educating players, to show that H.I.V. is preventable, that medicine is available for those who are infected and that there can be a big difference between living with H.I.V. and dying from AIDS.

Fonte: New York Times9 giugno 2010

Autore: Jeré Longman

Foto di apertura: Patrick Barth

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