Using the appeal of football to break HIV stigma

News article 9 Jul 2020
Image of a LFC football used in the project in Africa

A partnership between Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and  Liverpool Football Club (LFC) Foundation using football to break the HIV stigma, has seen self-testing in the area increase by 30%.  

Health Goals Malawi’ was a three-year project led by LSTM using football to engage adolescent and young males in Malawi aiming to reduce the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The project used the appeal of football to attract adolescent boys and young men to events attended by HIV self-test providers. Football games helped to deliver health messages about HIV and to increase knowledge about HIV transmission, prevention, testing and treatment.

Local community leaders and coaches were supported to promote HIV self-testing and to reduce the stigma and fear of testing by normalising the discussion of HIV self-testing, through football coaching and matches. Working in partnership with Liverpool Football Club Foundation, Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust, Population Services International, and role models (including Sadio Mané from Liverpool Football Club) the project raised awareness of support services to engage and educate young people – the least likely to access health and education services - about self-testing and treatment plans.

Young people accounted for 30% of new HIV infections in Malawi in 2016. Currently, HIV testing rates amongst adolescents are low, with only 24% of young men and 42% of young women report having tested in the last year. HIV self-testing helps to break down the fear of HIV testing by giving users an opportunity to test themselves at home and in private. This gives users an initial insight into their status before they access services in a clinical setting.

Over 3,300 self-testing kits were distributed through the football sessions, and the percentage of participants reporting recently testing for HIV increased from 53% to 83%, likely to result in the long-term reduction of transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. In addition, the project has had a broader impact on the role of women and girls in sporting spaces in Malawi, through proactivity including women and girls in the project. This has increased the number of girls taking part in football and has helped change mindsets about the capabilities of women and girls.

Lee Booth, Health Goals Malawi Programme Manager, said “The strength of the Health Goals Malawi project was found in the multi-agency approach adopted in the planning, delivery, and implementation of the project, drawing on the skills of all partner organisations and we are delighted with the outcomes.”

Sara Begg, who coordinated and delivered coaching for the project for LSTM, added “Ongoing relationships with Malawi are being maintained by LSTM and the LFC Foundation, and we hope to develop a sustainable delivery model which can be implemented across Malawi and beyond, and even into the Liverpool region.”

You can read the project summary impact report on the project pages.