We’re celebrating a milestone this month: we’ve hit 10,000 HIV tests across all our programmes! That means young people and their communities have accessed this crucial service voluntarily at our football sessions and tournaments 10,000 times since 2015. Thank you to all the players, coaches, service providers, partner organisations, donors, funders and staff who have made this possible.
When we introduced free and confidential HIV testing and counselling at our football tournaments a few years ago, we had no idea how important this service would become for our young people. For many TackleAfrica players, our tournaments are the first time they get tested, and although it might seem unusual at first it actually makes perfect sense. Young people tell us having the service at pitch-side takes away the fear they normally have walking into a clinic and being seen by a doctor in a white coat. We use youth-friendly and trained Ministry of Health approved counsellors and testers, dressed casually, who offer the service without judgement or prejudice. There are no lectures or disapproving eye-rolls as some young people have reported receiving in hospitals and clinics! Young people also tell us the fact they’re surrounded by the support network of their teammates makes it easier to take that first step into what can be a frightening moment, and often teammates test at the same time. Finally, they tell us at a football tournament there’s a lot going on – matches being played, a DJ playing music, goal celebrations and dancing… no-one bothers you as you go in for your HIV test at a tournament, unlike in a clinic where your name is called out in a silent room and you can feel the stares as you meet the doctor.
Getting tested for HIV, and knowing your HIV status whether positive or negative, is the most important tool we have in the fight against HIV. UNAIDS has an ambitious target: 90% of all people living with HIV today must know their status. Without widespread HIV testing we’ll never reach this. If you know you’re negative, you can take steps to ensure you remain negative. If you’re HIV positive, you can follow ARV treatment and with today’s advances if you take the treatment correctly and consistently, you can live a healthy, long life and suppress the virus to the point you cannot transmit it to anyone else, including your children if you want to get pregnant. HIV testing at our sessions and tournaments has become a crucial element of all our programmes, alongside other services such as STI and TB screening, condom distribution and even Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision. We’ll continue to provide this service to our communities, free of charge and free of judgement, to anyone.