African religious leaders warn of HIV risks during World Cup

By staff writers
10 Jun 2010

A group of African Christian and Muslim leaders is warning of increased vulnerability to HIV infections during the soccer World Cup in South Africa, reports Ecumenical News International from Johannesburg.

The competition runs for a month from 11 June. The world football extravaganza, probably the largest single sporting event in the world, is coming to Africa for the first time.

Southern Africa has a major HIV-AIDS problem, which is running at pandemic levels in some areas.

The religious leaders have said they want governments to help commercial sex workers and their clients to protect themselves against HIV during the event.

"When you add a whole group of men, plus lots of free time and lots of liquor together it makes an explosive combination," said the Rev Jape Heath, an HIV-positive South African Anglican priest.

Heath is a co-founder of the African network of religious leaders living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS.

He believes that it is especially important that those with direct experience and empathy speak out, and commit to programmes and advocacy which address the needs and experiences of others.

Many sex workers, who are vulnerable both economically and in health terms, and many of whom are abased as well as poor, are seeing the tournament as a major opportunity to make money off comparatively wealthy 'punters'.

In the last World Cup in Germany, 'safe zones' including shelter, medical and pastoral assistance and condoms were offered for sex workers and their clients - despite objections from some religious and other civic groups.

Those working with the women felt that their safety and protection should take precedence over external moral judgement of their profession, and that the alternative of trying to suppress prostitution would not work and would put them at serious risk of violence and disease.

In South Africa, partial decriminalisation or tolerance is not regarded as an option, given prevailing attitudes, and major efforts are being directed to warning all involved of the serious infection risks and encouraging protection.

[Ekk/3]

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