World Cup teams back UN appeal to keep mothers healthy and babies free of HIV

Captain of the South Africa football team Aaron Mokoena signing the UNAIDS World Cup Appeal

7 June 2010 – Nine teams that will compete in the soccer World Cup kicking off in South Africa later this week are supporting a United Nations-backed global campaign whose goals are to keep mothers infected with HIV/AIDS healthy and to prevent their babies from becoming infected.

Each day nearly 1,200 babies are born with HIV worldwide, according to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), which is spearheading the campaign. During the course of a 90-minute football match, almost 80 babies will become newly infected.

“Between now and 2014, when the next World Cup is played in Brazil, together we can stop babies from becoming infected with HIV and keep their mothers alive and thriving.

“Hence we appeal: from Soweto to Rio de Janeiro, give AIDS the red card and prevent babies from becoming infected with HIV,” said UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassadors and international football stars Michael Ballack, former captain of the German World Cup team, and Emmanuel Adebayor of Togo.

The two stars personally asked the captains of nine World Cup teams – South Africa, Nigeria, France, Paraguay, Uruguay, Australia, Côte d’Ivoire, Greece and Serbia – to sign the appeal, and they agreed.

“Through the appeal, the global popularity of football and the prestige of team captains will help us raise awareness about the toll of HIV on mothers and babies and promote action to ensure that HIV testing and treatment services reach all who need it,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, who will attend the World Cup opening ceremonies later this week.

Mr. Sidibé noted that HIV infections in infants have been virtually eliminated in many high-income countries. “Now we must apply the tools at our disposal to create an HIV-free generation in Africa and worldwide,” he said.

The star players are taking action because in 2008 alone, 430,000 babies were infected with HIV, 90 per cent of them in sub-Saharan Africa. AIDS-related illness is the single largest cause of death of infants and young children in much of Africa, and the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age across the world.

But countries are making progress in stemming mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Nearly half of all HIV-positive pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries receive HIV treatment to prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies, according to UNAIDS.

The efforts are helping to improve maternal and child health and bring the world closer to achieving all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the social development targets that States have agreed to make efforts to meet by 2015, the agency said.

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