Hundreds of South African children affected by the Aids epidemic have been brought joy, happiness and health education through the international language of football. The WhizzKids United project dreamed up by a British HIV nurse has been using the beautiful game to give children better lives for the last four years. It was developed in response to the staggeringly high numbers of HIV infection in young people in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.
In South Africa more than 15 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 49 are HIV positive. The Whizz Kids programme educates teenage boys and girls about HIV prevention while also teaching football skills on the pitch. Based in Durban, the third largest city in South Africa, which is due to host the World Cup 100 days from now, WhizzKids United has already attracted the attention of the football tournament’s organisers and legend players. Sepp Blatter, the president of World Cup organisers FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) FIFA visited Whizz Kids this week. His visit will highlight a footballing legacy in South Africa, which will live on long after the World Cup has left the city. "WhizzKids United uses football to deliver effective HIV/AIDS prevention, care, support and treatment to youths through the medium of football," said Marcus McGilvray, the man behind WhizzKids.” "These kids love football, and by using that as a medium to teach, there's not a child that comes along that doesn't want to be there," Marcus told the Daily Mirror newspaper. When it opens next month, Whizz Kids' first Health Academy, will offer counselling, HIV testing and football coaching all at the same venue. Already as many as 10,000 children have taken WhizzKids United Life Skills Football Training. The programme has been showcased at AIDS conferences around the world.
The South African Department of Health estimates that 28 per cent of pregnant women were living with HIV in 2007. Until 1998, South Africa had one of the fastest growing epidemics in the world, but HIV prevalence now appears to have stabilized, and may even be falling slightly, says Aids and HIV organisation, Avert. Among teenage girls, the rate fell from 16.1 per cent in 2004 to 12.9 per cent in 2007, possibly showing a fall in the rate of new infections. The health department believes this is because of to a change in safer sexual practices among younger women.
By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children