SOCCER SCORES NEW GOALS FOR HIV PREVENTION IN AFRICA

Soccer Match in South Africa

By Param Bhatter
Staff Writer

Could soccer be the most popular sport in the world? With the FIFA World Cup approaching, and all of the drama and excitement that it entails, soccer fans all over the world are getting more and more anxious with anticipation for the summer. As perhaps the one sport that is played and watched by all, from any culture, the world stage that soccer employs is perhaps the greatest of any sport. Soccer also happens to be perhaps one of the most democratic sports in the world, with every player, regardless of position, contributing equally to the team and having the ability to score. With over 1 billion people watching the world cup, nobody can deny the power of soccer and its ability to unify people all over the world.

But soccer is no longer just a sport. With such a global presence, soccer is now being utilized as a vehicle for addressing health issues around the world. Used as a tool to help break customary values and longstanding traditions, soccer is promoting HIV awareness in many separate parts of Africa.

In the Nkomazi district of South Africa, medical workers believe that 65 percent of people in the adolescent and young adult age group carry HIV. In this culture, HIV is extremely frowned upon and disregarded, and denial is often the easiest solution for victims of the condition. People who admit to having the disease are often ridiculed by their family and friends and considered outcasts.

In the last five years however, there has been an increase in the awareness of the virus, the options for treatment, and information passed on concerning how to limit its transmission, all accomplished through the sport of soccer. Spearheaded by former Stanford assistant coach, Sarah Noftsinger, the initiative has established a soccer league that runs in over five villages with over 2,500 participants and 160 teams that promote the spread of knowledge of HIV and AIDS. In the league, players receive instruction from trained coaches about topics such as HIV, domestic violence and self-confidence. Players are offered incentives such as nicer jerseys and uniforms for attending these sessions, as well as subjecting themselves to HIV testing after games to make sure they stay in prime athletic condition.

Similar to Noftsinger’s efforts in South Africa, another organization that has now started making tremendous strides towards linking soccer with HIV and AIDS education is Grassroot Soccer. Founded by a small group of French professional soccer players, this project has developed an interactive curriculum that promotes soccer-themed HIV prevention through a so-called “Skillz Curriculum.” By conducting small drills on the soccer field that relate to HIV, the program appeals to many youth who love the sport and can benefit more from the education than from traditional classroom learning. For example, participants set up a bunch of cones that each represent a certain HIV related risk. If a player hits a cone while dribbling, each teammates must do pushups or run, showing how one’s personal mistake affects the rest of the family and community. Coaches are there to help raise awareness regarding all the issues accompanied by HIV, in addition to supporting their team, testing the players regularly, and of course helping them improve their soccer ability.

Many evaluations, conducted by universities such as Stanford and Johns Hopkins have shown that Grassroots is having a positive impact on knowledge and social stigmas related to HIV. Behavioral studies have shown that Grassroot program graduates were nearly six times less likely to engage in activities that could lead to the transmission of HIV. Grassroot has now expanded its programs into several countries in Africa such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania, and the group is hoping to take their mission and success story to other continents as well.

With the variety of cultures, ideals and traditions in the world that differ from region to region, philanthropists, doctors and leaders often find it difficult to promote wellness and change stigmas that already exists regarding healthcare. Sports are an underlying aspect of society found in every culture, making them a perfect vehicle for change and reform. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and is now just beginning to be utilized to benefit society in ways besides competition and entertainment. The potential that it possesses to change the world is endless, and we are only now starting to exploit it.

For anyone who would like to get involved, feel free to check out Grassroot’s website and see what you can do today!

Image by digitalrob70

BLOG: THE PROBLEM WITH HUMANITARIAN AID

By Joe Armenta
Senior Editor

A new developmental organization is shaking the international humanitarian aid arena. In 2008, a group of recent graduates from the University of Cambridge developed a model to provide financial assistance to some of the world’s poorest people—one that is actually pretty simple.

Instead of establishing complicated schemes to build communities in the developing world, GiveDirectly distributes cash payments straight to people in need to spend at their leisure. The money comes with no strings attached. Once a recipient is identified, a wireless cash transfer is routed directly to her account and she is given the ability to spend the funds on whatever she chooses.

This goes against the dominant nonprofit industry standard, which advocates sustainable development by teaching skills and offering goods to poor families in hopes of indirectly improving their quality of life. The idea behind these types of programs is proverbial: give a man a fish and you feed him for the day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

The problem with this is that fishing lessons are expensive and time consuming. To provide technical assistance to people requires a highly trained staff, administrative structures and institutional monitoring tools. What is more, the skill sets that people need to achieve long-lasting sustainable development are often unclear. What may seem like a sure way to improve living standards may actually have little impact when the program’s recipients no longer receive aid. With this in mind, it may be more efficient to take the funds that would have otherwise been spent on indirect expenses and give them straight to the targeted individuals.

A full discussion of the benefits of each type of program can be found here, but in debating the efficiency of providing aid to the world’s poor, it should be noted that both types of organizations function as an anti-government solution to addressing poverty. Whether it is providing services or direct cash flow, leaders of both types of organizations attempt to target individuals by transcending national borders.

The problem with this is that widespread poverty in the developing world is the result of bad governance. Poor people emerge out of the inadequate distribution of resources to a country’s citizenry. A report by the Brookings Institute finds that of the 1.2 billion people currently living in poverty, an estimated 595 million live in resource rich countries that experience high rates of corruption and poor institutional frameworks.

Governments are important in addressing the needs of people. They can offer incentives for international investment, build the necessary infrastructure to the connect markets and provide educational training to advance performance. Moreover, good governance, whereby leaders are receptive to the demands of their people, provide an outlet for the poor to demand the greater distribution of wealth in order to increase social mobility.

While it is true that outside non-governmental organizations, such as GiveDirectly, do help individuals access resources, their assistance comes at the cost of letting governments off the hook for providing such services. Why should a government invest funding in programs when it knows that an outside organization will do it for free? More importantly, why should an individual expect its government to provide such services when outsiders will literally give them money for being poor?

Moving forward to eradicate poverty will require a greater emphasis on fostering better governance. This is a slow and tedious process, but its effect will have truly long-lasting and sustainable impacts.

Photo by DFID-UK Department for International Development

AGAINST ALL ODDS: POLIO RESURGES IN SYRIA

Polio Vaccination Teams in India

By Aarushi Gupta
Staff Writer

Behind all the media attention from the Syrian Civil war, another issue has emerged from the shadows. Previously thought to be globally eradicated as of 1999, polio is making a comeback among the war-ravaged Syrian population. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that polio has been eradicated from the entire world except for the nations of Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan, where it has been slowly on the decline. However, polio has been on the rise in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. As of November 26, 2013, 17 cases of polio have been confirmed in the region; by December 2, 2013, the number of cases had increased to over 60. A decrease in vaccine coverage in Pakistan lead to the conception of the Polio Eradication Campaign by the WHO in December 2012. The goal? To vaccinate all children in the region under the age of five against polio. In Syria specifically, this noble undertaking was executed with the help of the UN Children’s Fund and the Syrian Ministry of Health. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is currently an all-encompassing movement that is operational in 200 countries with the help of national governments and various service organizations. Without the help of the Syrian Ministry of Health, the 4,000 workers would not have been able to mobilize themselves in Syria to help the 2.5 million children in 13 Syrian provinces.

However, the WHO stated in October 2013 that there have been 15 confirmed cases of polio in Syria, despite the efforts of the “Eradicate Polio Campaign” (EPC). Coincidentally, all 15 cases (now more than 60 cases) are all in the Deir Azzor province of Syria. This region was also excluded from the EPC vaccinations earlier this year, because the Syrian Ministry of Health claimed that “the majority of residents have relocated to other areas in the country” due to the ongoing civil war in the area. However, a local health official associated with the ACU (Assistance Coordination Unit; an organization that provides assistance to victims of humanitarian crises) says that, contrary to the WHO contention of 15 cases, there are actually a shocking 52 cases of polio among children in the region alone. In addition, there has been no Ministry of Health presence in the Deir Azzor province at all. It should come as no surprise then that the Deir Azzor province has been under rebel control since 2012, which is why there has been no Syrian-controlled polio aid, resulting in the apparent concealment of the true extent of the polio endemic. In essence, Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator, can be accused of using polio to help suppress the civil war ravaging his country.

The WHO has stated that the strain of polio present in Syria can be genetically linked to the active Pakistani strain. However, the WHO also claims that it is not the migrating Pakistani militants who brought the disease to Syria, but the nomadic tribal groups that have allowed the disease to fester and grow in Pakistan. The virus has been dormant in the Deir Azzor province of Syria for the past 18 months, but the current instability from the civil war has yielded favorable biological conditions for the virus and prompted it to reemerge and infect local children. Similar conditions are present in the Khyber valley where the virus remains prominent in Pakistan.

It is interesting to note that the Taliban, through their extensive presence in the Pakistani region, has implemented a “jihad against Polio vaccinations,” and has taken to attacking various human rights groups administering polio vaccinations, which is why several polio aid workers in Pakistan have been attacked. This Jihad is mainly directed against polio vaccinators and other health workers, but is intended to lessen the number of U.S. drone strikes and attacks in the region. The Taliban is essentially holding its own children hostage to call for a ceasefire from the United States. Another reason that the Taliban is targeting public health groups (like the Global Eradication Initiative) is the death of Osama bin Laden. To confirm bin Laden’s location when he was in hiding, CIA operatives staged fake vaccination drives in 2011 to validate the presence of the family in the region. They compared blood samples from the vaccination drive with a blood sample from bin Laden’s sister, who had died previously in a Boston hospital. Obviously, the samples from Abbottabad came back positive and confirmed his presence in the area. However, this led the Taliban and native Pakistanis to harbor a massive distrust of health care professionals in the region, especially toward western health care organizations, which are now essentially disallowed. However, in a state that is predominantly Muslim as Pakistan is, polio vaccinations are bound to be required, as now all pilgrims to Saudi Arabia (location of both Islamic holy sites, Mecca and Medina) are required to have their polio vaccination shots before entering the country, according to the Saudi Arabian Embassy. This may pose a problem for any Pakistani citizens wishing to complete the hajj, or holy pilgrimage, which is a requirement for Muslims everywhere.

Without more aid and extended reach from the Eradicate Polio Campaign, the possibility that polio could further migrate from Syria and other areas of unrest to the developed world will become a very realistic one. Vaccinations are imperative for travelers and workers in affected regions, as well as unexposed children, though in the Deir Azzor province, the children might be hard to find. We can only hope that the WHO’s “Eradicate Polio Campaign” will prevent this highly contagious disease from taking further lives. This currently regional issue could become an international concern if not controlled.

Image by the Gates Foundation