Three England international footballers met more than 3,000 Malawian youths on Monday urging them to step up the fight against HIV/AIDS, a pandemic that kills 10 people every hour in the southern African state.
“I am glad to be here and encourage Malawian youths in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Abstain, if you can’t use a condom,” Gary Neville told cheering pupils from surrounding schools in the capital’s main stadium.
“Football is a fantastic vehicle to change things like HIV/AIDS,” the English FA executive director David Davies said in an interview, adding that he hoped the visit would spur awareness of the disease among young Malawians most at risk.
Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville and Manchester City’s goalkeeper David James are in the country on an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign sponsored by the British Department for International Development (DFID).
The players’ two-day trip to Malawi includes private visits to orphanages as well as stadium demonstrations in both Lilongwe and the commercial capital Blantyre, which include football skills workshops for aspiring young players.
Malawi is in the epicentre of Africa’s AIDS epidemic along with other countries in southern Africa, and government officials say the disease kills about 240 people each day.
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD