In his role as UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador, the German football star Michael Ballack conducted a 3-day mission to Johannesburg, South Africa, where he learned about the impact of HIV on communities and used his star-power to raise public awareness of the epidemic.
On 18 January, the first day of his visit, he met with men who have sex with men (MSM), a key population at higher risk of HIV during a visit to the Health4Men initiative at the Yeoville Clinic in Johannesburg. The innovative programme provides free sexual health services to MSM, who often experience stigma and discrimination and struggle with a lack of services catering to their needs. Mr Ballack toured the programme, spoke with health providers and met with MSM.
“I think it is so important that we give attention to HIV because it is everybody’s business,” said Mr Ballack.
“Having somebody like Michael Ballack, who is a big, big celebrity come here to meet people living with HIV, I am very grateful for that and I am very happy,” said one of the Health4men’s clients.
“It is almost impossible to discuss MSM sexual issues openly in South Africa. This is why it is important for these kinds of services to be integrated, into mainstream health care services provided throughout the country,” said Glenn de Swardt, Programme Manager at the Health4Men site.
The Grassroot Soccer project in Soweto was on the itinerary on day two. Along with UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé Mr Ballack spent time with participants of the programme. Grassroot Soccer uses football to deliver key life-skills to young people.
“Michael Ballack has done so much to raise awareness of AIDS and UNAIDS is so lucky to have him give his time, energy and name to the HIV movement,” said Mr Sidibé.
Mr Ballack also attended the opening of the 2013 Orange Africa Cup of Nations, which is the continent’s most prestigious football tournament. During the tournament, Mr Ballack met with the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma as well as with other African Head of States, attending the event. UNAIDS launched its HIV awareness campaign, “Protect the Goal” during the opening.
South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world with an estimated 5.6 million people living with HIV. During the past few years the country has made remarkable progress in reversing the course of the AIDS epidemic. Now, the country has the largest HIV treatment programme in the world with 1.9 million people living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy.
“I have really learnt a lot during this trip and I look forward to continuing to work with UNAIDS on stopping the spread of HIV,” said Mr. Ballack.
The football champion has been a UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador since 2006 and he has dedicated time and effort to disseminating HIV prevention messages through the media.