Footballers assist HIV awareness campaign

Myanmar Times

30/03/2014

By Matt Roebuck

Stars of Myanmar football, Kyaw Ko Ko of Yangon United and Than Than Htwe – whose goals from midfield contributed to the Myanmar women’s team claiming bronze at the 27th SEA Games – will feature in the ‘Protect the Goal’ campaign launched on March 26 targeted at HIV prevention.

Speaking to the couple at the Sedona Hotel, President of the Myanmar Football Federation (MFF) U Zaw Zaw told them, “This is your duty, to use your popularity … your duty to the people of Myanmar … not only to the people of Myanmar but to the whole world.”

The program in Myanmar is backed by the UNAIDS, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) who have invested between US$200,000 and $300,000 in the program that will initially last between one or two years. However, Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS Country Director in Myanmar, was keen to point out that although the publicity campaign may finish, the training element would be delivered in a way that ensured the sustainability of the project and its message.

The media campaign featuring the footballing duo will be displayed in advertising at the stadiums during Myanmar National League (MNL) matches. Why football? Murphy explained, “Because they [footballers] connect, they are young leaders in society and young people especially look up to them. With football we can reach the teashops, remove the stigma of discussing HIV and make people not afraid to get tested.”

Neil Sta Maria, representative of the AFC, also emphasised this point. “The words said by football players are burnt into memory … The words my teachers said to me one week ago, I wouldn’t remember … but every comment of my football idols I would remember all season long.”

Footballers will also be providing interviews to local media, discussing the issue of HIV and stressing the UNAIDS vision of “zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.” However, there will be more to this than simply a media campaign. Murphy described U Zaw Zaw as the captain of this team and the MFF, Myanmar Red Cross and Football United – a program of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia – will be delivering education and training directly to footballers, particularly at youth level.

“The MFF already deliver training to young players across 11 topics at what they call ‘sport development camps’ and HIV awareness will now become part of that training,” Murphy said.

Training will also be delivered to coaches and support staff. The hope is that these individuals as well as the players and young people will go on to talk to their family and friends and the message will spread.

The ‘Protect the Goal’ campaign was first launched in South Africa at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The campaign has garnered support from around the world and since then UNAIDS has signed cooperation agreements with the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), the South American Football Association (CONMEBOL) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

The AFC signed their Memorandum of Understanding with UNAIDS back in November 2013 and Myanmar is one of five pilot countries on the continent, along with Cambodia, Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand.

When asked how Myanmar’s campaign might differ and be adapted to local circumstances, Murphy once again highlighted their local partners’ development of the training program and Football United’s implementation of similar pre-existing schemes for communities in Mawlamyaing and Yangon. He continued to congratulate the federation, explaining that “Myanmar is ahead of many others. They are the first to launch and start their campaign. Credit must be given to the league; it is modeling for others to follow.”

Murphy also reiterated that whilst the international program attempts to put across a message to enhance awareness of HIV, improve access to HIV prevention and treatment, and work to eliminate HIV-related stigma and discrimination, the Myanmar program will particularly focus on prevention, the need for which has been recently emphasised by President U Thein Sein.

Neil Sta Maria had already pointed out that it was the Myanmar Football Federation’s enthusiasm to be involved in projects like this and focus on corporate social responsibility that had led to their winning of the AFC’s Dream Asia Award 2013.

At the time of receiving the award U Zaw Zaw said, “I am sure the whole country is proud of this achievement. This shows that our work has paid off but more importantly we will keep doing what we’ve been doing from the bottom of our heart.”