By Ashma Shrestha Basnet
KATHMANDU, Nepal, 1 December 2008 – On World AIDS Day, the national sports stadium of Nepal filled with messages about the disease. The theme was 'Team Up to Fight AIDS' and the aim was to reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by those living with HIV/AIDS.
Nearly four dozen people from all backgrounds came together in two teams on the football field to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS among children and adolescents. The teams were named the 'HIV Warriors' and the 'ARV Superstars' and included political leaders, comedians, singers, sports personalities and people living with HIV/AIDS.
The crowd was thrilled to see their favourite stars competing alongside Nepalese people who are courageously living with HIV/AIDS. The hour-long match kicked off to nthusiastic cheers from the thousands of people in the stadium.
In a society where those living with HIV are discriminated against, one of the female players who is living with HIV said: “I am happy and excited to be a part of this game. I felt as healthy as any other player. It really boosted my confidence to play in this way and has made me more hopeful for a better life in the future.”
Said Nepali singer Subani Moktan: “I am happy to be a part of a cause where I can help in decreasing discrimination against HIV positive people. Even I was not aware that Nepal has the highest HIV prevalence in the South Asian Region.”
“I always wanted to play football in the national stadium,” said Deepak Bista, a National Taekwondo expert and Olympic athlete. “Being able to fulfil my childhood dream while spreading messages about HIV and AIDS is a great opportunity for me.”
Mr. Bista also displayed his football skills as he led the 'ARV Superstars' to victory by scoring two goals.
‘This campaign is just the beginning’
After the match, the players spoke with the media to make sure that the message of the event would be spread beyond those in attendance at the stadium.
“This silent pandemic deserves our serious attention,” said Manavi Dhakal, a popular VJ in Nepal.
“This campaign is just the beginning,” added Paras Khadka, a national cricketer.
Sugarika KC, a former Miss Nepal, added, “I hope this match will sensitize our youngsters about the issue.”
Focus on children living with HIV
The whole event was organized by Saathi Sanga Manka Kura (SSMK), a popular radio programme, and Equal Access, a non-governmental organization, with support from UNICEF. The event was also supported by Family Health International, FHI/USAID and the Nepal Association of People Living with AIDS (NAPN).
The funds collected through ticket sales will be used for the care and treatment of HIV-infected children.
“Whenever we talk about AIDS, we only think about adults,” said Nirnaya, a popular rap singer. “I was amazed to know that so many children are living with HIV in my country and these children really need our affection and attention.”