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World Cup fever takes Aids message to young fans

With the World Cup in full swing and schools closed for a month, HIV/Aids groups are grabbing the opportunity to reach out to South Africa's youngest and least privileged football fans.  The government’s move to shut down schools during the month-long games, sparked worries that a lack of adult supervision could put children at risk of HIV, hunger, and even trafficking.

A project run by the South African Business Coalition on HIV/Aids (SABCOHA) is looking to prevent this happening by to using dance and sport to teach children about HIV, risk, and how to plan their future. Right now it is running ‘Camp I am’ projects in nine provinces across South Africa.

In Soweto, a sprawling township south of South Africa's commercial hub, Johannesburg, a World Cup host city, now has some pretty well-off suburbs. Even so, many people there still struggle with HIV, unemployment, poverty and substance abuse. And staff working at the camp there saw evidence of this every day. About 300 children go to Soweto’s Camp I am, but not many live so nearby they can walk there every day, so staff pick some of the children up from their homes, often helping sort the younger ones out while their parents sleep off a night of heavy drinking.

Alcohol abuse and the risk taking that often goes with it form a big part of the HIV and life skills lessons the children are taught in between learning traditional South African and modern dance, and getting out on the  football pitch.  “You have to look at HIV and think of ways to simplify everything so that they understand it,” said Zuko Mata, who works at the camp. "Sometimes you omit something that you don't think the smaller ones should hear, but with the older ones we tell it like it is – it's a good way to catch them early," he told the United Nations news service, Irin.

Since they started at the camp, he said he had watched children become more confident and ready to speak up. Some have also brought along friends and cousins. But more needs to be done. In many African countries, Aids has become the leading cause of death among babies and children. The South African government has recently launched a nationwide HIV testing and treatment campaign that urges South Africans to get tested for HIV. Also by this time next year it also aims to give some 1.5 million people antiretroviral therapy, up from about one million in 2009.

Hayley attribution