“CAN without AIDS”: reaching youth with HIV prevention messages at the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament

Bookmark and Share

Feature story

“CAN without AIDS”: reaching youth with HIV prevention messages at the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament

25 January 2012

From left to right : Cameroonian football star Samuel Eto'o, Issa Hayatou, Chairperson of the African Football Confederation, First Lady of Gabon Sylvia Bongo Ondimba and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé travelled to the West African nation of Gabon on 23 January to lend his support to an innovative campaign launched by the Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation—a charitable organization run by Gabon’s First Lady.

 The campaign, called “CAN without AIDS,” uses sports as a platform to reach millions of people with messages on HIV prevention across Africa, particularly youth. Timed with the 2012 Coupe d’Afrique des Nations (or “CAN”)—a football championship co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea—the campaign is supported by Cameroonian football star Samuel Eto’o and Didier Ovono, captain of Gabon’s national football team.

In a meeting at the First Lady’s offices in Libreville, the capital city of Gabon, Mr Sidibé thanked Madam Sylvia Bongo Ondimba for integrating the UNAIDS vision of “three zeroes”—Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS-related deaths—in the “CAN without AIDS” campaign. He encouraged the First Lady to continue her efforts to strengthen the HIV response in Gabon and across the continent.

“I am ready to open the debate on AIDS dependency with colleagues to find local solutions.”

Ali Bongo Ondimba, President of Gabon

“I am very happy to be associated with the President and the First Lady of Gabon in this important campaign,” said Mr Sidibé. “UNAIDS will continue to work with the First Lady’s Foundation beyond the CAN 2012 tournament, and we want young people to respond to our call for a final score of zero,” he added.

After the football tournament ends in mid-February, “CAN without AIDS” will focus on the national HIV response in Gabon, with each quarter of the year dedicated to one of the “three zeroes.” UNAIDS and the First Lady’s Foundation signed an agreement to work together on this country-focused campaign.

Meeting with Gabon’s Head of State

In a separate meeting with President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon on 23 January, Mr Sidibé congratulated the Head of State for his personal engagement in the HIV response—nationally and globally. The UNAIDS Executive Director thanked the President for his participation in the June 2011 UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS, and for his leadership in the adoption of an historic Security Council resolution on AIDS.

During their discussion, Mr Sidibé and President Ali Bongo Ondimba expressed concern over Africa’s dependence on external financing for the HIV response. “The level of development aid is a reflection of our own commitment,” noted President Ondimba. “I am ready to open the debate on AIDS dependency with colleagues to find local solutions,” he added.

An estimated two-thirds of AIDS expenditures in Africa come from external sources. Between 2009 and 2010, international investments for AIDS dropped by 13%.

AIDS advocacy with football star Samuel Eto’o

Later in the day, UNAIDS Executive Director held a joint press conference with Samuel Eto’o at the Agondjé stadium in Libreville.  Mr Sidibé emphasized that an international football player like Eto’o can carry a powerful message to young people in Africa and beyond—including Eastern Europe, where the HIV epidemic is growing at a rapid rate.

Samuel Eto'o (pictured left) and the UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé.

During the press briefing, Mr Eto’o underscored the need to openly discuss HIV-related issues and to find solutions. “I hope HIV will stop being taboo in our communities,” he said.

The visit to Gabon culminated with a symbolic gesture: the release of 50 000 red and white balloons above the stadium in the presence of the First Lady, Samuel Eto’o, the UNAIDS Executive Director, the Chairperson of the African Football Confederation, Issa Hayatou, and the Director-General of the First Lady’s Foundation, Guillaume Adam.