Hit ignorance for a six! ‘Let’s talk about HIV’ cricket tournament

Jul 6, 2015

Young cricket players in Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka listen to Ananda Bodinayaka, Senior Manager Media and Communications, Advocacy unit with Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, during a session on HIV and sexual and reproductive health for men who have sex with men and transgender people. Photo: FPA Sri Lanka.

Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka – The sport of cricket was used as a medium to convey HIV prevention information and raise awareness about stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV (PLHIV) and key populations, such as men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people, at a recent event in the coastal town of Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka.

The unique cricket tournament was organized on 6 June 2015 by Saviya Development Foundation (SDF), Family Planning Association (FPA) of Sri Lanka and the National STD/AIDS Control Programme under the Multi-Country South Asia Global Fund HIV Programme – a regional HIV programme supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Fund.

The event, which drew more than 150 people, was an activity under a seed grant programme which is providing small grants for community-driven advocacy initiatives that contribute to development of an enabling policy environment on sexual health and human rights of MSM and transgender people.

“The campaign piggybacked on an on-going global campaign called “Let’s Talk” by the International Cricket Council and UNAIDS, which FPA Sri Lanka has been supporting since 2011,” said Madusha Dissanayake, Director of Advocacy and HIV with FPA Sri Lanka. “The campaign uses the spirit of cricket to create awareness on HIV in cricket playing countries and specifically targets youth to initiate discussions and confront the social stigma associated with HIV. Popular national cricketing legend Kumar Sangakkara is the ambassador for the campaign.”

Asoka Somarathne, Provincial Politician, Attorney at Law and United National Party organizer for Rathgama electorate acknowledged the need for such a creative initiative to refer youth to health services.We have to talk more about HIV and the people and communities who are at risk. Using sports activities to reach these audiences can be an effective way of doing this,” he said. 

During the event the provincial STD clinic conducted a mobile voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) clinic at the venue to encourage young people to know their HIV status. Over 50 people attended the VCT clinic at the event.

SDF and FPA Sri Lanka also conducted a raffle draw and quiz competition to encourage the participants to attend the VCT clinic and disseminated information about HIV and STIs.

Prior to the start of the tournament an awareness session was also held on HIV and key populations for the teams by the Medical Officer in charge of the provincial STD clinic and the Public Health Inspector.

“We conducted the session in a youth-friendly manner and encouraged the young people to access the government health facility sexual and reproductive health services,” said Dr. Prasad De Silva, Medical Officer of the STD Clinic, Balapitiya. “It also showed them that getting a test is not difficult or something that one should be scared or embarrassed about. We hope more young people, specifically the young men will seek our services.”

“I feel that negative attitudes towards MSM, transgender people, beach boys and PLHIV will be changed as a result of this kind of event which gathers together multiple stakeholders, including political leaders, government officers, health sector officers, members of sports clubs and activists,” said Thushara Senanayake, Director, Training & Programme, SDF. “However, a lot remains to be done to achieve our objective of ensuring a stigma and discrimination free society.”

The event was an example of strategically integrating stakeholders and resources to ensure interaction between MSM and transgender persons and the public to reduce stigma and discrimination and to connect young people to the government health services. 

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