Tackling the stigma of HIV and AIDS

1st December 2016

Today marks World AIDS Day, providing an opportunity for people around the world to come together to show their support for the fight against HIV and AIDS.

In 2015, 36.7 million people were living with HIV globally – of these, 25.5 million were living in sub-Saharan Africa, which remains the region that has been most affected by the disease. In 2015 alone, 800,000 people died from an AIDS related illness in sub-Saharan Africa.

We’re working to change this. Since Comic Relief began, we’ve helped over 3.5 million people affected by HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. Our HIV funding in Africa focuses on supporting organisations that tackle the stigma attached to HIV and which help people - especially vulnerable groups - to adhere to life-saving treatment and access good quality holistic HIV services.

One of the organisations we work with in Africa is Grassroot Soccer (GRS), who we have funded since 2010. Grassroots Soccer use a football-based HIV prevention programme to engage young people in Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The programme is helping to improve HIV knowledge, reduce the stigma associated with HIV and promote behaviour change in this vulnerable target group. Grassroots Soccer’s local Community Coaches are supporting young people in these countries to use youth-friendly health and HIV services, so they can know their status and get the treatment they need.

Meet Marilyn

Growing up HIV positive wasn’t easy for Marilyn, coming to terms with her diagnosis and facing the stigma in her local community. Thankfully, Marilyn was introduced to Grassroots Soccer in 2011. They have taught Marilyn about HIV and helped her to understand her treatment, as well as supporting her to open up about her diagnosis and live positively. She’s now a Grassroots Soccer Coach in Zimbabwe, sharing her experience with others who test positive and guiding them through important issues such as acceptance, disclosure, healthy living, and adherence to treatment.

Marilyn said, “I was afraid to stand up in my community and speak, but now I find myself being a change-maker in my community. I am finally seeing a pathway to becoming an effective role model. Now I can relate my own personal experiences to my peers and how being at Grassroot Soccer has enabled me to overcome the challenges that I have faced in my personal life. It humbles me to know that I am doing something in my life and effecting a change in my community while teaching others to live healthy and positive lives.”

Grassroot Soccer’s model has proved so effective that Comic Relief is now funding them to use their innovative football-based programme to tackle gender-based youth violence in a number of schools and communities in South Africa.

What’s next?

There’s still much work to do in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This is why in September this year we launched a new HIV, Diversity and Dignity funding initiative, to address the needs of marginalised population groups who are disproportionately affected by HIV. The initiative aims to help to remove stigma which stop these groups from accessing services as well as giving them a voice, strengthening their livelihoods and improving the policy environment to enable them to claim their rights.

Comic Relief is also funding a number of projects in the UK that work to support people living with HIV.

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