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Cricket and HIV campaign hits the road aboard the “Let’s talk” bus in Sri Lanka

21 September 2012
© UNICEF/2012/ROSA/Paba Deshapriya

(UNICEF/UNAIDS)  A bus embossed with HIV messages, red ribbons and the faces of world cricketing stars is making a whistle stop tour through more than a hundred sites in Sri Lanka. Carrying young volunteers, the bus is part of the HIV awareness-raising campaign “Let’s Talk” taking place around the world Twenty20 cricket tournament that runs from 18 September to 7 October in Sri Lanka.

An integral part of the joint UNAIDS, UNICEF and the International Cricket Council (ICC) partnership known as ‘Think Wise’, the bus has been on the road since late August. Using the power of cricket it aims to reach out to thousands of young people in Sri Lanka providing them with HIV information as well as inviting them to talk about AIDS.

Serving as the face of the roadshow, Sri Lankan cricketing hero and ‘Think Wise’ Champion Kumar Sangakkara’s message is featured on the side of the bus: “When you know the facts, you know what to do. Get the facts. Protect yourself against HIV”.

As the bus pulls up at one of the designated stops, the vibrant young volunteers greet locals with music, dance and organize activities including street cricket and an HIV quiz. With tickets to the Twenty20 final as the prize, the quiz along with the other activities is intended to help promote key HIV prevention and anti-discrimination messages.

“Education programmes through entertainment are really needed as they reach out to young people, especially those most at risk,” says ‘Think Wise’ roadshow volunteer Paba Deshapriya as she invites young people attending to sign on a giant wicket in support for the Sri Lankan team at the Twenty20 tournament. At the same time, she presents them with red ribbons and information about HIV services they can access in their area.

“The roadshow interactions are clearly showing that public knowledge of HIV is still extremely low—which means the bus and the AIDS response in Sri Lanka still have a long journey,” said roadshow team leader Mr Hans Billimoria.

Under the broader umbrella of the ‘Think Wise’ campaign, the bus roadshow is the result of a diverse national partnership in Sri Lanka that includes UNAIDS, UNICEF, Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, the National STI/AIDS Control Programme, the National Youth Council, the community organization Grassrooted and local youth organizations. The initiative aims to not only give clear and up to date information on HIV, dispel AIDS-related myths and challenge social stigma against people living with HIV but also to link people with local HIV services including HIV testing and counseling, treatment and support.

Despite a relatively low HIV prevalence in the country (less than 0.1%), stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and key affected communities is high and presents a major barrier to the HIV response. National surveys suggest that many people at higher risk of infection delay testing themselves for HIV and coming forward for treatment because they are concerned by the implications of testing HIV-positive and the confidentiality of their HIV status.

Dr Nimal Edirisinghe Director of the Sri Lankan national STI and AIDS Control Programme said, “This is an ideal opportunity as the campaign actively links young people to HIV prevention and treatment services.”

According to the UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Sri Lanka Mr David Bridger an AIDS-free generation is within our reach. “That’s why through the ‘Think Wise’ campaign we say: ‘Let’s talk – Get the Facts – Protect yourself’ encouraging open dialogue on sex, sexual diversity, risks and HIV prevention methods,” he said.

As the bus continues its journey through Sri Lanka, additional HIV activities related to the ‘Think Wise’ campaign will take place during the Twenty20 tournament. These include screenings of a public service announcement at every match, the wearing of red ribbons by players in the semifinals and interaction events between cricket players from the West Indies and South Africa teams and young people.

Think Wise 2012 - A Partnership to outrun HIV/AIDS

Information is power and in the fight against HIV/AIDS it can tip the scales. In an attempt to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS across cricket playing nations in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the International Cricket Council first joined hands in 2003 under the slogan ‘Run out AIDS’.

In the run up to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 in the Caribbean, UNICEF joined the historic partnership, kicking off the global ‘Unite for Children, Unite for AIDS’ campaign. Building on the history and experience, the partners agreed in 2009 to continue the global partnership under the banner of “Think Wise”.

The partnership banks on the popularity of top cricket stars to combat the global AIDS crisis in countries where cricket is the leading sport. Over 40% of the new HIV infections globally are being reported among 15-24 year olds. This means every day another 3000 young people are infected with the virus.The campaign encourages young people to be informed, take appropriate action to prevent HIV infection and stand together against the stigma and discrimination often facing people living with and/or affected by HIV/AIDS.

Over the years, several players from different cricket playing nations have become active supporters of this campaign. These “ThinkWise Champions” include stars like Virender Sehwag (India), Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka), Ramnaresh Sarwan (West Indies), Nathan Bracken (Australia), Isa Guha (England), Stafanie Taylor (West Indies) and Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh).


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