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Bowling out AIDS - ECB and Government join forces

Gareth Thomas

Gareth Thomas is joined by ECB Board member Lord Morris at the launch of the campaign at a Parliamentary reception for the England and West Indies teams

England cricketers are spearheading the attack to tackle the stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV in the Caribbean face. A new partnership between the Government, the England and Wales Cricket Board and UK Sport will use the power of sport to educate people about the disease.

Gareth Thomas, International Development Minister, David Collier, chief executive of the ECB and John Scott, International Director at UK Sport, were joined by England's Ian Bell, and announced the details of a new campaign that will help raise awareness, and reduce the impact, of the discrimination against people suffering from the disease.

A new £1.5 million unit, to be launched later this year, will find new and innovative ways to break down the barriers of discrimination against people in the Caribbean.

Welcoming the new initiative at a launch in the House of Commons, Gareth Thomas said: "Official figures tell us that there are a quarter of a million people infected with HIV in the Caribbean, but stigma, discrimination and ignorance of the disease mask the real extent of the problem.

"The truth is that with 19,000 related deaths and 27,000 new infections in 2006 the Caribbean faces the second largest problem from AIDS in the world, after Africa. It is already the leading cause of death of adults under 44.

"People living with HIV and AIDS face big enough challenges without the added burden of stigma and discrimination. I have witnessed first-hand the problems that people with HIV and AIDS around the world experience, treated as outcasts and shunned by their own family and friends.

"The new partnership with the ECB and UK Sport aims to reverse this and change the way people are treated, increase understanding and improve treatment of people living with the disease in the Caribbean."

Gareth Thomas Ian Bell Aids

England's Ian Bell and West Indies skipper Ramnaresh Sarwan were also present at the launch

David Collier added: "I am delighted that the Government is adding further impetus to the ECB/ICC HIV/AIDS awareness programme which has been running for a number of years. The new facility in the Caribbean will make a real difference to people’s lives.

"Cricket is followed by people around the world, from Jamaica to England and from India to South Africa. The ECB and our players are committed to raising awareness of the issues faced by people living with HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean. We would like to see more people learning about teamwork and inclusion through playing cricket, and our partnership with DFID means that together we can harness the power of cricket to tackle one of the toughest development challenges that the Caribbean faces."

Ian Bell said: "When we play cricket, we have to pull together or we lose matches. If you know someone who is living with HIV, they are still part of the team. Keep supporting them and together you’ll keep winning."

John Scott from UK Sport said: "We are delighted to be working in partnership to support this important initiative. Development through sport is a proven medium for educating young people and helping raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. In addition, sports stars act as powerful role models for young people, and it is fantastic to see professional players lending their voices to this important issue."

The partnership between DFID, the ECB and UK Sport will run from 2007 – 2010 and will involve profile raising work in the media and affected communities by ECB players. The centre piece of the new partnership, a Stigma and Discrimination Unit, will start work later this year (£1.5 million over three years; also supported by the German Development Bank - KfW).

The Stigma and Discrimination Unit will be linked to the University of West Indies at the Cave Hill Campus, in Barbados, and will be managed by the Community Health Action Trust, also based in Barbados.

The project will identify examples of best practice from within and outside of the region, working closely with people living with HIV and AIDS.

HIV and AIDS continue to exact a heavy toll in the Caribbean. HIV/ AIDS is the leading cause of death among adults in the 15 – 44 years age group in the Caribbean. According to regional estimates, published by UNAIDS (December 2006) there are 250,000 adults and children living with HIV and AIDS, with 27,000 newly infected during 2006. This is likely to be an under estimate, as many of those infected are not aware of their status. Deaths from AIDS (also under-reported because relatives resist having HIV noted on death certificates) were reported at 19,000 last year. Overall prevalence of HIV infection in the region is now at 1.2 per cent.

Some factors which contribute to HIV/AIDS-related stigma are:

  • HIV/AIDS is a life-threatening disease
  • People are scared of contracting HIV
  • The disease is associated with behaviours (such as sex between men and injecting drug-use) that are already stigmatised in many societies
  • People living with HIV/AIDS are often thought of as being responsible for becoming infected
  • Religious or moral beliefs lead some people to believe that having HIV/AIDS is the result of moral fault that deserves to be punished.

UK Sport’s International Development Assistance Programme supports projects that foster sport and human development through sport. Working in partnership with organisations and agencies across the world, UK Sport helps others to create their own sporting systems. The focus is on using the power of sport to help tackle issues such as improving health and fitness, developing education for young people, and increasing awareness of HIV/AIDS.

The ECB have been active in working with the ICC to promote their HIV Aids awareness programme. Last winter saw Ian Bell and Andrew Strauss take on ambassador roles in promoting the programme in the West Indies.