Speech at the Regional Launch of the "Protect the Goal" Campaign

May 16, 2014

Regional Launch of the “Protect the Goal” Campaign

A joint initiative by Asian Development Bank (ADB),
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and UNAIDS



Ms. Michelle Gyles-McDonnough

United Nations Resident Coordinator for Malaysia;

UNDP Resident Representative
for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam

Friday, 16 May 2014
AFC House, Jalan 1/155B, Bukit Jalil
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Yang Berbahagia Dato’ Windsor Paul John, Deputy General Secretary of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC),

Puan Roswati Ghani, Executive Director, Malaysian AIDS Council and Executive Secretary, Malaysian AIDS Foundation,

Mr. Hairudin Omar, President of the Professional Footballer’s Association of Malaysia (PFAM),

Mr. Amirizdwan Taj Tajuddin, Malaysian national player,

Youth footballers who have come onboard to support this campaign,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Salam Sejahtera and a very good afternoon!  It is a pleasure to join this afternoon’s campaign launch.

I would like to congratulate the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and UNAIDS for leading this initiative in this region.  I also would like to thank our partners who are together with us in this endeavour - the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF); National Football Association in Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines; Malaysian AIDS Council; and Dignity for Children.

This campaign aims to raise awareness of HIV among the football fraternity, especially young people in the five selected countries in this region - Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines.  This campaign is one way to assist countries in their push to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and the 10 targets endorsed in the United Nations General Assembly 2011 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS; and to get to the goal of zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.  Football appeals so much to so many of us in this region - from young  to adult, men and women, easily bringing us all together in a space without barriers.  And so football provides an optimal avenue to educate and activate a wide audience to act – to take steps to get to zero new infections, to eliminate discrimination and end new AIDS-related deaths.

According to the latest (2012) UNAIDS estimates, twelve countries account for more than 90% of new HIV infections in the Asia Pacific region: Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam.  This “Protect the Goal” campaign targets initially 5 of these 12 countries.

Working with key populations at higher risk is central to curbing the epidemic and getting it under control in the region.  Key populations include those who inject drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men, or transgender people.  These fellow citizens in our communities, their relatives and friends are not sufficiently reached by prevention programmes, and special attention needs to be paid to the young people in these key population groups.  In Malaysia, recent data shows that 78% of new cases were among those aged 20–30 years old so we must keep our youths informed as we seek solutions.  Despite success in AIDS response such as harm reduction programmes and prevention of mother to child transmission, infections through sexual transmission are increasing, especially among men who have sex with men. 

The available information sets up a red flag for us.  It indicates that our young people from key populations at higher risk have low knowledge of HIV and prevention methods.  Most young people who are engaged in risky behaviour (e.g. unsafe sex and injecting drug use), do not know their HIV status.  This may be one of the reasons that 78% of new cases in Malaysia, as I just mentioned, are among 20-30 year olds.  This suggests a gap in access to, and provision of, sexual and reproductive health information, including HIV prevention information. Such information is usually delivered in institutional settings which does not reach many of those in need of the information.  A consequence is that most persons in these key populations only find out their status when they are already seriously ill, which greatly reduces the efficacy of antiretroviral treatment. 

We therefore must make a bigger effort to remove the barriers people face in accessing information, treatment and care.  Stigma and discrimination remain the single most important barrier to public action.  It is the main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment if they do.  It helps make AIDS the silent killer because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions.  If we invest in treatment and care, and do not simultaneously deal with stigma and discrimination, this allows new infections to continue to increase.  We fail to make the most of public investment and at the same time, can increase the burden on the public purse. 

The accessibility of sexual and reproductive health services by young people is also bound by the national legislative framework which also has implications on service providers and the support they can offer.  Stigma and punitive legal environments are holding back progress on achieving zero new infections and zero AIDS-related deaths.  So let’s remove the stigma, stop the discrimination, give young people equitable access to sexual and reproductive health information, including HIV prevention, as well as access to youth friendly reproductive health services so we can “Protect the Goal” and reduce the scores to zero!

This “Protect the Goal” campaign we hope will re-engage young people and change behaviour using football as a powerful tool for communicating awareness and engagement.  Several activities have been planned, in collaboration with the national football associations, local community-based organisations and youth-led organisations.  We hope to engage a wider range of young people through this campaign.  We hope that through this communication campaign, the millions of football fans in the region, in particular young people, will commit themselves to HIV prevention and come forward for HIV testing and counselling.  We want everyone and particularly young people to know their status and be able to access the live saving antiretroviral treatment if needed. 

Let’s end the heart break of losing our relatives, friends and members of our community who give our communities vibrancy and contribute to their growth.  Let’s end the pain that comes from being a victim of stigma and discrimination, and stop the hardening of our hearts and the corrosive effects in our society from inflicting such pain and suffering through stigma and discrimination.

The time to get to zero new infections and zero AIDS-related death is now.  My gratitude to AFC for helping us to address this important development challenge for our communities through the power of football.

Thank you.

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