Success Stories: Zebras For Life Testing Campaign Launched
The captain of the Zebras national football team admits their latest competitor may be the toughest challenge yet. But if Zebras' fans continue to support the team the way they always do, chances are that even HIV/AIDS can be beat.
"Together as a team we can defeat this through teamwork, cooperation and with the good support you normally give us," Modiri Morumo, the Zebras captain, said at last week at a press conference to announce the launch of a new HIV testing campaign called Zebras 4 Life, Test 4 Life.
Zebras 4 Life, Test 4 Life is supported through the U.S. Ambassador's HIV/AIDS Initiative in partnership with the Government of Botswana and others. Its aim is simple: To encourage men and young people to know their HIV status.
Partners in the campaign include Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture, NACA, the Department of Sports and Recreation, the Botswana Football Association (BFA), the U.S. Peace Corps, BOTUSA, Orange, and Tebelopele. Funding is expected to come, in part, from U.S. President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, which is a $15 billion initiative to fight HIV/AIDS and TB around the world.
U.S. Ambassador Katherine Canavan explained that the campaign is utilizing the influence of Botswana's best football players to make its point.
"The men who take the field in those blue, black and white striped jerseys are heroes to their adoring fans. We also know that these players are held to the highest standards while on the playing field, and to the tens of thousands of fans, they are nothing short of role models.
"These players realize that their influence doesn't stop when the game clock ends. They are leaders off the field as much as they are on. It was in this light that several of them have volunteered to become spokesmen for the Zebras For Life, Test For Life campaign."
In the coming year, stars from the Zebras national team will travel throughout the country with counselors from the Tebelopele Voluntary Counseling and Testing centers. They will make appearances in rural areas and in towns, at different activities, schools and soccer matches, to show men that there is no shame in going for an HIV test.
"Why is it so important to target men? For social, cultural and economic reasons, men are often considered to be in a stronger position in their relationships with women," Canavan said. "They are important in ensuring that their families go for HIV tests, or for encouraging their partners to join national programs such as PMTCT, the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission program."
Botswana has made great strides in Voluntary and Routine Counseling and Testing over the past few years. Health care workers estimate that up to 35 percent of the 1.7 million people living in Botswana now know their HIV status - a percentage far greater than many other countries.
"This is great news, but it also means that 65 percent of the population still do not know their HIV status. Men especially are underrepresented at the testing centers," she said.
"It is vital that our community leaders - especially men - stand up and encourage others to be tested and play a positive role in HIV/AIDS prevention and care. We need men to lead their families to the testing centers."
Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Moeng Pheto said a reduction of new infections is the key to the quest for "no new infections" by 2016. He said another target of the testing campaign is out-of-school youth.
"Through sport, HIV/AIDS messages are disseminated to large numbers of people of varying backgrounds and ages," Pheto said. "The out-of-school youth are especially vulnerable to serious problems such as street crime, prostitution, substance abuse, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV/AIDS."
Marumo ended the conference by encouraging all fans to go and test. He said HIV/AIDS does not discriminate and urged people to stick to one partner and stay faithful.
With the help of fans, he said, "Zebras can kick HIV/AIDS away."
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