Photo from HDWallpaper.In 2005, the United Nations held the International Year of Sport and Physical Education and committed sport to assisting in Millennium Development Goal achievement. Goal #6 is to help combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. How is sport supposed to help combat a disease like HIV/AIDS you ask? Sport is used as the excuse to draw people together in order to deliver educational messages and discuss issues such as stigmatization and social integration. The Nike (RED) campaign is one of the more visible (and corporate) examples of sport attempting to fight HIV/AIDS with most other initiatives such as Right to Play, Kicking AIDS Out and the Mathare Youth Sport Association being more program based. These programs use sport and play activities to teach youth about the dangers of HIV/AIDS while providing a safe space for discussion. I bring up the topic because last week Poland announced that it would distribute 150,000 condoms during the Euro 2012 tournament. A pretty progressive stance right? Yes and no. It’s progressive only because we are actually acknowledging that people have sex. Not progressive in that we are still missing the ball on what actually spreads the disease most of the time.
At one time, HIV/AIDS epidemiologist, Elizabeth Pisani said “People do stupid things, that’s what spreads HIV.” She has since retracted, or at least altered, her statement to argue that “People do stupid things, for perfectly rational reasons…HIV is about sex and drugs and if there are two things that make people a little bit irrational they are erections and addiction.” When she puts it like this it makes me wonder why we spend so much money and effort trying to educate people about something that is largely visceral. Anyways, getting back to sport, there is an ongoing argument that large sporting events draw higher rates of prostitution because of the influx of tourism. The jury seems to be out on this one with no real data to support this argument but logic would dictate that one should go where the customers are and a large sporting event might be a good market. After all, isn’t that why stores try to locate themselves in high traffic areas? But I think we need to stop and consider three things: (1) Pisani’s research has observed that it is more difficult to encourage condom use within intimate relationships than for commercial sex, (2) as of 2004, drug injectors made up almost 80% of Poland’s HIV/AIDS population (for those who knew the method of transmission), (3) Ukraine’s epidemic started with their drug injector population and today it has the highest rates of HIV/AIDS prevalence in Europe (the Euro 2012 tournament will be joint hosted by both Poland and the Ukraine).
Handing out free condoms is definitely a start but, as with most things, humans tend to complicate things. I wonder what the reaction would have been if Poland had announced it would also be handing out 150,000 clean needles?
To learn more about Pisani’s work watch the TED talk below.