“It’s like saying they just want us to die, they want our children to suffer again and to be orphans.”

July 19th, 2010 by Extra-Time

From where Esther Goba sat watching two football teams clad in “HIV POSITIVE” t-shirts competing in a football tournament in Limbe, Malawi, she wouldn’t strike you as someone who is at the frontlines of the life-or-death match against HIV/AIDS.

Dozens of participants in MSF’s HALFTIME! football tournament in Limbe, Malawi take part in a march to raise awareness of the consequences of international HIV/AIDS funders cutting back on spending. Photo: P.K. Lee/MSF

Dozens of participants in MSF’s HALFTIME! football tournament in Limbe, Malawi take part in a march to raise awareness of the consequences of international HIV/AIDS funders cutting back on spending. Photo: P.K. Lee/MSF

But Esther, aged 53, is doubly affected: she has been living with HIV for the last 8 years and she is a nurse with a passion for supporting people like herself and ensuring that they stick to their life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. 

Last week she was one of the scores of supporters I saw next to a football pitch at the Chiwembe Technical Centre, in Limbe, where people living with HIV and staff from Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) HIV treatment projects in Malawi, played football as part of MSF’s HALFTIME! initiative. Representatives from the Malawi Ministry of Health (MoH), the support organisation NAPHAM (National Association for People living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi) and Dignitas International also participated.

HALFTIME! is an MSF initiative to raise awareness of the impact of international donors withdrawing from funding HIV/AIDS projects and treatment. While the other HALFTIME! events around the world (in Johannesburg, Brussels, Geneva and Berlin) were hosted in cities, HALFTIME! in Malawi had a very different backdrop – beautiful mountain views, clear blue skies and villages dotting surrounding areas.

Esther has been working as an MSF staff nurse in Malawi’s Thyolo district for nine years now.

In 1995 when Esther’s husband died of AIDS it was at a time when people in Malawi still knew very little about the disease. Later she started working with MSF in a prevention of mother to child transmission programme, motivating pregnant women to get tested for HIV. “One day I told myself: ‘Why don’t you get tested as well?’ ” Esther told me.

Esther Goba is an MSF nurse working in an HIV/AIDS treatment project in Thyolo, Malawi. She has been living with HIV since 2008 as both a patient and medical worker. “We have the right for life. We have the right for treatment,” Esther says.  Photo: P.K. Lee/MSF

Esther Goba is an MSF nurse working in an HIV/AIDS treatment project in Thyolo, Malawi. She has been living with HIV since 2008 as both a patient and medical worker. “We have the right for life. We have the right for treatment,” Esther says. Photo: P.K. Lee/MSF

“I tested HIV positive in 2008 and I started ARV treatment later in the same year. To me ARV treatment means life and hope,” she said. “Since I learnt of my status, I had one hope – to educate my children. That’s the only thing I wanted to do in my life.”

Thanks to the ARV treatment, Esther achieved more than she hoped for. Not only is she able to see her four children growing into adults, but she is also able to make a difference in the lives of dozens other people living with HIV by working as a nurse.

As a medical worker in the battle against the HIV/AIDS crisis, Esther has also witnessed the importance of continued funding for ARV drugs which has brought treatment closer to people in need. “By now I thought we would be talking about the improvement of ARV treatment, the management of side-effects and access to newer and better treatments. But instead now we hear the international donors talking about cutting funding,” Esther explained to me.

“If the donors cut the funding on ARV treatment, it’s like saying that they just want us to die, they want our children to suffer again, they want our children to be orphans,” said Esther. “We have the right for life. And we have the right for treatment.”

- PK Lee, MSF Communications Officer.

Voices rising from a dusty football pitch

July 13th, 2010 by Extra-Time

“HALFTIME! is no time to quit” footballers living with HIV tell international donors

Nomcebo Dlamini pumps her feet into the sparse turf of Newtown Park. “Being HIV positive is not the end of life,” she says with gutsy determination. It is just minutes before the kick-off of HALFTIME! – five-a-side football tournament organised by international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

HALFTIME! football tournament in Limbe, Malawi. Six teams participated in the tournament. The players of which some are people living with HIV/AIDS are all alive today because of the availability of ARVs. They are calling on donors to stay in the life-or-death match against HIV/AIDS. Photo by: P.K. Lee/MSF

HALFTIME! football tournament in Limbe, Malawi. Six teams participated in the tournament. The players of which some are people living with HIV/AIDS are all alive today because of the availability of ARVs. They are calling on donors to stay in the life-or-death match against HIV/AIDS. Photo by: P.K. Lee/MSF

Nomcebo, aged 30, is a mother of three and one of the stars of the HIV Conquerors team from Swaziland playing against five other teams featuring people living with HIV from South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in the HALFTIME! tournament.

HALFTIME! is an initiative which seeks to raise awareness of the consequences of international donors’ growing disengagement from HIV/AIDS treatment funding in recent months. Through HALFTIME! in South Africa people living with HIV make their voices heard during the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, telling international donors that it is no time to quit on funding treatment, when millions of lives are at stake in the life-or-death match against HIV/AIDS.

It is thanks to major international funding that 4 million people worldwide are alive and on life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment today. Four years ago Nomcebo was able to start on ARV treatment. Thanks to the drugs and a prevention of mother to child transmission programme she is living a healthy life and her children are not HIV positive. “ARVs were the beginning of life for us,” she says.

But Nomcebo’s gains and those of millions of other people dependent on donor funded ARV treatment are under threat. Their health and lives are at risk as major international donors including the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the World Bank, UNITAID, and donors to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria have started capping, reducing or withdrawing their spending on HIV treatment and ARV drugs during the last 18 months.

All the participants and MSF staff took a march from the MSF office to the venue to before the HALFTIME! football tournament began in Limbe, Malawi. Photo by P.K. Lee/MSF

All the participants and MSF staff took a march from the MSF office to the venue to before the HALFTIME! football tournament began in Limbe, Malawi. Photo by P.K. Lee/MSF

Apart from the flat-lining of funds and dwindling donor commitments, few African countries have lived up to the Abuja Declaration of 2001 where African leaders committed to spend 15 percent of their expenditure on health care. All this does not bode well for people like Nomcebo.

HIV/AIDS crisis is not over

With an estimated 33.4 million people worldwide living with HIV and 2 million people dying of AIDS each year the HIV emergency is far from over. Today more than 9 million people living with HIV who are in urgent need of ARV treatment still do not have access to it – this in 2010, the year by which world leaders had committed to reach universal access to ARVs for all those who need it as part of pledges to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

“Only one in three people living with HIV in urgent need of ARVs have access to it. So we are not halfway there yet in treating everyone. The HIV/AIDS emergency is not over and we are saying halftime is no time to quit! Millions of people are at risk of dying within the next few years if we don’t do more now to keep donors to their promises. It is unacceptable; it is a moral betrayal to back out of these promises,” says Dr. Gilles van Cutsem, MSF project coordinator in Khayelitsha, South Africa.

In the field MSF has already observed in several sub-Saharan African countries that a reduction of funding means fewer ARV treatment slots are available and that treatment is being rationed. Already in Uganda, people must wait for patients on ARVs to die before they can begin treatment, while in other countries like Zimbabwe there are limits to when people are enrolled on treatment. “Instead of building on it, we see signs of punishing the successes of the last decade,” says Dr. Van Cutsem.

All the participants and MSF staff took a march from the MSF office to the venue to before the HALFTIME! football tournament began in Limbe, Malawi. Photo by P.K. Lee/MSF

All the participants and MSF staff took a march from the MSF office to the venue to before the HALFTIME! football tournament began in Limbe, Malawi. Photo by P.K. Lee/MSF

Dlamini puts it more bluntly: “If the donors are going to leave us, then we are dead.” She describes how she has already lost both her sister and her mother to AIDS – a shockingly common occurrence in Swaziland, where one in four people are infected with HIV/AIDS and less than half of those in need of ARV have access to it.

What about the future?

On the pitch all 36 players in the tournament are kitted out in brightly coloured t-shirts with the “HIV Positive” slogan emblazoned on the chest. Over 200 supporters in similar t-shirts line the field, cheering on the teams with every shot at goal. Curious passersby stop and watch the matches. They amazed when they hear that the players exhibiting such vigour on the field are people living with HIV.

One of the participating teams from South Africa has a poignant name to embody the change ARVs have brought to their lives and those of millions more in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. They are called Siyaphila, a word in the locally spoken Xhosa language which means “we are alive, we are well.”

“I was privileged enough to enjoy life with ARVs. But what about the people on waiting lists? What about the people who are getting infected with HIV every day? Will they get the opportunity that I have; to stay alive and well, and to enjoy life? I want to urge donors to stay in the fight and not to drop their commitments to funding ARVs,” says Siyaphila team member Nonqaba Jacobs. 

  • The HALFTIME! five-a-side football tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa, took place on 2 July 2010. The event was part of several other activities in Switzerland, Belgium, Malawi and Germany during the international HALFTIME! initiative. For more on HALFTIME! visit www.msf-halftime.info 
  • Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) provides treatment and support for more than 160,000 people living with HIV and AIDS in over 27 countries through different programmes.

Where Footbal and HIV/AIDS Treatment meet: Voices from pitches in Bulawayo

July 12th, 2010 by Extra-Time

The 2010 FIFA World Cup is in its final stage and the excitement in Southern Africa is still palpable even in Zimbabwe where I work in a nurse for Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in an HIV/AIDS treatment project, n north of host nation South Africa. It’s an excitement that has not been dampened despite the disappointment of Ghana’s Black Stars are now out of the running.

South Africa’s Siyaphila team goalkeeper Nandipha Makhele tries her best to stop a shot at goal by Janet Mpalume, star striker of Zimbabwe’s ARV Swallows during the HALFTIME! 5-a-side football tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Lisa Skinner

South Africa’s Siyaphila team goalkeeper Nandipha Makhele tries her best to stop a shot at goal by Janet Mpalume, star striker of Zimbabwe’s ARV Swallows during the HALFTIME! 5-a-side football tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Lisa Skinner

Seeing as this is the first time I’ve written a blog I was stuck with the inevitable “where do I start?’ dilemma. But a discussion with our outreach staff and information, education and communication (IEC) department set me on a journey into understanding how our patients view the topic of HIV relating to soccer. As it turns out, one of the many IEC activities that MSF carries out in Bulawayo is to support the monthly recreational activities hosted by the HIV peer support groups.

There are a total of 145 support groups in Bulawayo, which meet weekly. And once a month, all the districts (made up of ten support groups each), meet and play football and netball together. MSF provides logistical and material support, which includes the supply of soccer balls, refreshments, transport, and a first aid kit. We also facilitate an empowerment program for focal persons in the support groups.

So, last week I decided to go along and meet everybody and hear their thoughts on HIV, football and the World Cup. These are their stories:

Shedias, peer support group leader:

Shedias was treated for tuberculosis in 2002 and also tested HIV positive. “Being HIV positive is like a game of football: you either win or lose. I take it as winning. By working as a team and living positively we can beat HIV. One of the key players is the goalkeeper, he stops HIV from scoring! Soccer is a fast game, it moves fast like HIV but by playing soccer we can also spread important messages about HIV by networking and sharing stories,” says Shedias.

Swaziland’s HIV Conquerors go head-to-head with South African health activist group Treatment Action Campaign team Flucanozole Pirates in one of the most exciting challenges in the HALFTIME! tournament. HALFTIME! in Johannesburg, South Africa, was part of an international initiative to raise awareness about the impact of dwindling commitments by international donors to fund HIV/AIDS.  Photo by Lisa Skinner

Swaziland’s HIV Conquerors go head-to-head with South African health activist group Treatment Action Campaign team Flucanozole Pirates in one of the most exciting challenges in the HALFTIME! tournament. HALFTIME! in Johannesburg, South Africa, was part of an international initiative to raise awareness about the impact of dwindling commitments by international donors to fund HIV/AIDS. Photo by Lisa Skinner

Junior, peer support group leader:

Junior tested HIV positive in 2006 and started the Victory support group which now comprises 59 members. They do candle-making, make peanut butter and all have vegetable gardens in their backyards. The money they receive from selling these items helps pay for their children’s school fees, medications to treat opportunistic infections (these medications are not always available and they have to buy them at private pharmacies).

“Antiretrovirals (ARVs) are the defenders in the game of soccer. They stop re-infection and help us to have a stress-free life,” Junior says.

Dick, peer support group member:

Dick tested HIV positive in 2009 and started ARVs in January 2010. He has been a Level 3 soccer coach for twelve years and has helped develop a boys’ team to make it to the national level. He then became sick and started to withdraw from his involvement in football. He has recently disclosed his status, which has helped with his adherence to taking his ARV drugs. His family members now remind him that it is time to take his treatment Now that he is beginning to feel better, he wants to become more involved in football again.

I found the experiences of talking to people who are open and living positively with HIV incredibly inspiring and real. It makes me think that HIV is not only about receiving ARVs, but also about being able to conquer the mental aspect of this disease.

- Joanne Sage is an Australian nurse working with MSF in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Joanne joined the MSF in 2004, and has also worked in Sudan and Ethiopia.

Bombers Take the HALFTIME! Title with a Bang

July 9th, 2010 by Extra-Time

How strange it would be if the players in a World Cup winning side were to meet just five days before the deciding match for the very first time to train together and then take the title with a convincing victory…

Taking the HALFTIME! title: Munyaradzi Dodho, coach of Zimbabwe’s Opportunistic Infection Bombers (OI Bombers) celebrates his side’s victory in the final match of the HALFTIME! tournament. The team was the top scoring side in the tournament, with 12 goals out of the total of 34 being off the boots of OI Bombers’ strikers. Photo by: Lisa Skinner

Taking the HALFTIME! title: Munyaradzi Dodho, coach of Zimbabwe’s Opportunistic Infection Bombers (OI Bombers) celebrates his side’s victory in the final match of the HALFTIME! tournament. The team was the top scoring side in the tournament, with 12 goals out of the total of 34 being off the boots of OI Bombers’ strikers. Photo by: Lisa Skinner

But when Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) promised you an alternate take on football through the HALFTIME! initiative during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, that is perhaps exactly what was to be expected: unexpected success against the odds.

HALFTIME! brought together six teams of people living with HIV from across Southern Africa to compete in a 5-a-side football tournament in Johannesburg, while similar football matches and events took place around the world. We did this to raise the alarm about waning funding for life-saving antiretroviral treatment needlessly risking millions of lives when international donors back out of financial commitments.

Unlike the other teams in the HALFTIME! tournament the OI Bombers (Opportunistic Infection* Bombers), only met for the first time as a full team in Harare, Zimbabwe just days before their departure to Johannesburg and entered the tournament as underdogs.

Not only did the Bombers have to overcome the fact that they come from two different towns more than 500km apart, where MSF operates HIV/AIDS treatment projects in Tsholotsho and Murambinda, but they were also divided by language. Three of the members are Shona speakers, while the other three speak Ndebele. But despite this the team quickly banded together, finding a common goal in their quest to remind the world the HIV crisis is not over and that international donors should stay in the HIV/AIDS funding match.

“Many people have been asking me about how I feel about coaching this team and whether we are going to win any games. But we are taking this game seriously. For us it will be an opportunity to raise the flag high by winning. Winning is anything that comes from doing our best and we will do our very best,” coach Munyaradzi Dodho told us.

On the eve of the tournament they told the other teams: “We are going to bomb you on the field like ARVs bomb opportunistic infections like TB.”

And on Friday 2 July when they took to the field against the other five teams from South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe they proved their mettle and did just that.

South Africa’s Siyaphila team goalkeeper Nandipha Makhele tries her best to stop a shot at goal by Janet Mpalume, star striker of Zimbabwe’s ARV Swallows during the HALFTIME! 5-a-side football tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by: Lisa Skinner

South Africa’s Siyaphila team goalkeeper Nandipha Makhele tries her best to stop a shot at goal by Janet Mpalume, star striker of Zimbabwe’s ARV Swallows during the HALFTIME! 5-a-side football tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by: Lisa Skinner

First they trounced Mozambique’s Mambinhas 2 – 0. In their next game they blasted their way to a massive victory 8 – 0 victory over South Africa’s Siyaphila when they unleashed their full arsenal, just as they had promised.

The Bombers went from zeroes to heroes in an instant, becoming the team to beat and even surpassing the ARV Swallows – fellow Zimbabweans and early favourites to win HALFTIME!. By the time they met South Africa’s rough and ready Fluconazole Pirates in the final the Bombers were a force to be reckoned with.

The final came down to a penalty shoot-out and the Bombers clinched a 2 – 1 victory to take the tournament title and to become the top scoring team with a total of 12 goals – proving to the world and international HIV/AIDS treatment funders that halftime is NO TIME TO QUIT!

MSF staff and people living with HIV participating in the HALFTIME! tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa take to the streets for a celebratory march to conclude the tournament. Photo bu Lisa Skinner

MSF staff and people living with HIV participating in the HALFTIME! tournament in Johannesburg, South Africa take to the streets for a celebratory march to conclude the tournament. Photo bu Lisa Skinner

“If the funding ceases, my life will be no more. These international funders should not retreat now. They should continue supporting us. And even African governments should chip in what they have, so those outsiders [international donors] can do more with their efforts to keep on funding,” OI Bombers defender, Cloud Mapiti says.

– Maureen Mazibisa, OI Bombers team leader and Borrie La Grange, Head of Communications MSF South Africa

*[Opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis are the most dangerous enemy people living with HIV/AIDS face and antiretroviral drugs help combat this by improving the ability of the body’s depleted immune system to fight back]

Learn more about HALFTIME! visit: www.msf-halftime.info

MSF Geneva Shows Vuvuzela Spirit!

July 2nd, 2010 by Extra-Time
MSF footbal event in Geneva. Photo: MSF

MSF footbal event in Geneva. Photo: MSF

Around 50 Médecins Sans Frontières members based in Geneva got together on the evening of July 1st, to play in a friendly football tournament, to kick some HIV balls and to enjoy a picnic dinner with families and friends on the grass by the Lake. The white team, led by advisors to the Swaziland and Mozambique missions, was highly motivated and scored numerous goals !

Zimbabwe’s ARV Swallows the early favourites in MSF’s HALFTIME! football tournament for HIV

June 29th, 2010 by Extra-Time

The all-star Brazil football squad entered the 2010 FIFA World Cup as early favourites to make it to the finals and hope to lift the golden trophy. And similarly in Médecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) upcoming HALFTIME! tournament in South Africa sees a strong Zimbabwean team as one of the top contenders to take home the title five days before the kick-off here in Newtown Park, Johannesburg on 2 July. 

ARV Swallows

ARV Swallows. Photo: Joanna Stavropoulou/MSF

The ARV Swallows, an all female football team from the Epworth township near Harare are coming to South Africa with an impressive track record – they have won the HIV women’s league championship in their home country and are motivated to take victory in on Friday as well. HALFTIME! and the tournament featuring people living with HIV and MSF staff from four countries in Southern Africa in an effort to raise awareness on the continued battle for funding to fight HIV/AIDS. The tournament sees six football teams playing matches to raise the alarm about the ongoing HIV/AIDS emergency.

The ARV Swallows formed in 2009 when a group of HIV positive women, all seeking treatment at an MSF clinic in Epworth decided to form a football team to take on two stereotypes: that HIV is a death sentence and that women cannot play football.

This year, the ARV Swallows find themselves taking on a different challenge – to spread the message that the HIV/AIDS emergency is not over and HIV treatment funding needs to be secured. In order to do this they have had to make some changes. They have reduced the team from 11 to five players and they have had to draft a man into their ranks, their coach Jonas Kapakasa, as an additional member to meet the mixed gender requirement for teams to participate in HALFTIME!

And China is also going to play in this Zimbabwean team, too… A multinational team? No, no, no… “China” is the nickname of Janet Mpalume, the ARV Swallows’ star striker!

It has been Janet’s dream to play football abroad and this week her dream comes true when she and her team mates take to the HALFTIME! pitch in Johannesburg along with five other teams.

“We are training as hard as we can and I believe that we are going to beat the other teams. Playing soccer makes me feel like I am alive. It allows me to feel like I am valued and that I am seen amongst other people,” Janet says.

They clearly have the guts and determination, but will they be able to fend off challenges by countrymen the OI Bombers, Swaziland’s HIV Conquerors, Mozambique’s lightning fast Mambinhas, and the South African hopefuls, Siyaphila and Fluconazole Pirates?

We’ll have to wait and see if the ARV Swallows team will be victorious again. Visit the tournament in Johannesburg on Friday, or if you can’t make it find out more about the teams and the tournament here www.msf-halftime.info.

For more information on ARV Swallows visit www.thepositiveladiessoccerclub.com

- PK Lee, MSF Communications Officer

Mozambique’s Mambinhas ready to strike at HalfTime!

June 23rd, 2010 by Extra-Time

In Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, a field of 20 agile aspiring footballers from HIV programmes run by Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) did their best in recent weeks to impress selectors and secure their participation in the HALFTIME five-a-side tournament in Johannesburg in neighbouring South Africa on July 2.

The Mambinhas soccer team. Photo: MSF

The Mambinhas soccer team. Photo: MSF

But only six have earned the right to call themselves “Mambinhas”. These three men and three women have taken their inspiration from the lightning fast venomous tree-dwelling mamba snake from which the Mozambican national football squad, the Mambas, also derives its name.

Mambinha’s team captain, Joaquim Mutola, was diagnosed HIV positive in 2007. He says that MSF’s HALFTIME is an opportunity to give a voice to people living with HIV in Southern African region, and should inspire those who are afraid to live openly with their HIV positive status while reminding the world that the fight against HIV is not over.

“The main motivation is to show that HIV positive people can do what HIV negative people do in life thanks to ARV treatment,’’ says Joaquim.

Joaquim and the Mambinah’s are ready to show the world what they can do. Every Saturday the Mambinahs meet to train together to improve their football skills because they want to win all the games during HALFTIMEwhen will play alongside five other teams from Southern Africa!

“All the players are very motivated and we aim to score three goals against HIV and AIDS in each game we play,” says Florência Tamele, Mambinha player and spokesperson. Florência was confirmed HIV positive in 2008. She has been married for 13 years.

“Joining HALFTIME is our contribution to break the silence about HIV,” says Florência.

Joaquim says the team feel it’s a big responsibility to represent Mozambican people living with HIV through participating in HALFTIME: “With this opportunity we will tell the world that Mozambique also suffers from HIV and AIDS and that more needs to be done to fight the epidemic.”

- Abilio Cossa MSF Information, Education and Communication Officer Maputo, Mozambique

Watching the World Cup Soccer thanks to a second chance at life in Swaziland

June 21st, 2010 by Extra-Time

The Thwala family gathers around the small radio set to listen to the commentary of the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament match kicks off. The excitement in the little four-roomed house is so huge, neighbours walking past can almost feel it.

Jeremiah Thwala reminiscing the past, before he got sick with HIV related infections, including MDR TB

Jeremiah Thwala reminiscing the past, before he got sick with HIV related infections, including MDR TB. Photo: Lesang Makhubu

Like millions of soccer lovers around the world, the Thwalas have been looking forward to this momentous occasion for some time now. For them, the World Cup event is all the more exciting because, for the first time in history, the biggest sporting event in the world is taking place in Africa, in neighbouring South Africa.

The Thwala family lives in Jerusalem, a small rural community in the Shiselweni Region, in the southern part of Swaziland.

The small Kingdom of Swaziland is sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique. It is the country with the world’s highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS, where every one in four people are living with HIV. 

For 48 year-old Jeremiah Thwala, the head of the household, the moment is a welcome reprieve from the woes of an illness that has ravaged him for the past two years or so. He cannot help thinking how close he came to missing this historical event when he nearly died due to the killer dual infection of HIV and tuberculosis (TB).

As he looks around at the excited faces of his three children, two teenage boys and a girl, he can only appreciate the second chance he has been given at life.

Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and treatment for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) have allowed him to get his life back. Jeremiah is one of thousands of Swazis who are co-infected with HIV and TB (or as in his case, MDR TB which is a much harder to treat and deadlier form of TB).

“ARVs and TB drugs have given me a second chance at life, but it is a pity that my wife did not get this second chance,” he laments.

Jeremiah’s wife, Patricia Masuku, died in 2005 before a diagnosis could be made because the family never sought medical help. They believed that her sickness was a result of witchcraft practices by neighbours in the community.

While many people in Swaziland have died needlessly because of such misguided beliefs, many more are alive today because they now have access to free life-saving HIV and TB treatment at public health facilities.

Access to antiretrovirals and MDR TB drugs have allowed Jeremiah to recover well enough to perform various tasks for himself, including doing his own laundry, while his children are away at school. Photo: Lungile Dlamini/MSF

Access to antiretrovirals and MDR TB drugs have allowed Jeremiah to recover well enough to perform various tasks for himself, including doing his own laundry, while his children are away at school. Photo: Lesang Makhubu

Jeremiah, who is currently unemployed due to his health condition which is slowly improving thanks to treatment, says he has every reason to be forever grateful that he received access to ARVs and TB drugs. He now has the chance to raise his children and see his first grandchild.

For the moment, he can enjoy the match between France and Mexico. A simple pleasure many would take for granted, but one that holds a moment of magic for Jeremiah and his children.

- Lungile Dlamini, MSF Information, Education and Communications Officer, Mbabane, Swaziland.

Extra Time presents HALFTIME’s HIV Conquerors

June 17th, 2010 by Extra-Time

There are six African teams in the World Cup in 2010—and another six in the HALFTIME! 5-a-side tournament planned for Friday July 2 in Johannesburg. Swaziland is one of the determined soccer teams of HALFTIME!

Swaziland's HIV Conquerors is rehearsing every Sunday in preparation to HalfTime's event on July 2 in Johannesburg. Copyright MSF

Swaziland's HIV Conquerors is rehearsing every Sunday in preparation to HALFTIME's event on July 2 in Johannesburg. Photo: MSF

This small nation, South Africa’s nearest neighbour in the southern African region, and facing an even higher AIDS burden, lies due east of Gauteng province and its capital. The team will be bussing in to play—is this a secret motivational strategy, to bond en route via the road N17?

They’re already making bold claims.  Their name? “HIV Conquerors”! Their target? 15 goals in the day.  And they’ll have over a month’s regular practice under their belts.

Like many of the teams they’re a band of men and women living with HIV who’ve come together for the first time, to be part of HALFTIME and contribute to the call to donors to ramp up funding for treatment for HIV/AIDS.  They’re also here to show “that being positive and living a positive life means you can do everything,” and to share their experiences with other people living with HIV/AIDS from other countries.

Amongst them are also patients who have become MSF staff members, learning how to lead new patients along the pathway to treatment.

There’s three and a half weeks to go. We look forward to welcoming these courageous Swazis to South Africa!

For more information about MSF work in Swaziland, visit http://www.msf.org.za/Swaziland/

From the bench, onto the field

June 15th, 2010 by Extra-Time

In January this year I travelled to Cameroon to make a health promotion film that featured Sylvestre, a patient who motivate others to seek treatment. Sylvestre is a soft spoken man in his 30’s and at the hospital in Akonolinga town in East-Cameroon he is the master of the television set – especially when there is football to be watched. During my visit the national football team was competing in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.

Outside the hospital ward built by Médecins Sans Frontierès / Doctors Without Borders (MSF), around 50 patients suffering from the rare skin disease Buruli Ulcus were huddled around the Sylvestre’s TV to watch Cameroon’s compete in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. There was an almighty cry and shout at every shot at goal, but their pride and hope was not rewarded. Cameroon was defeated.

Patients in the MSF-ward of the hospital in Akonolinga, Cameroon, watch their national football team competing in the Africa Cup, January 2010. Copyright MSF.

Patients in the MSF-ward of the hospital in Akonolinga, Cameroon, watch their national football team competing in the Africa Cup, January 2010. Photo by MSF.

Sylvestre is an ardent football fan and he loves to talk about his hero, Roger Milla, once voted Africa’s best player. It seems that for Cameroon, every decade holds a challenge and a possible victory. In the 1990 FIFA World Cup, the national team surprised the football world when then 38-year old Milla scored four brilliant goals, securing Cameroon’s place in the Quarter Finals. Never before has an African team performed better in the World Cup tournament. Before Milla’s and the Cameroonian team’s performance on that year, naysayers wrote off African teams as serious contenders. “No discipline,” said some. “No endurance,” said others.

Ten years later Cameroon stood facing a far larger challenge, a challenge against all odds. And here MSF was able to play its part. In 2000, MSF set up its first HIV treatment programme in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde and delivered proof: those first patients leapt at the chance of a new lease on life and stuck to their treatment with determination.

Naysayers again said Africa had no money and no medical facilities, and they thought that African patients lacked discipline to adhere to treatment.

Now in 2010, the Les Lions Indomptables (The Indomitable Lions) and people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHWA) in Cameroon are facing new challenges again both on the field and in the treatment clinics.

In football Les Lions Indomptables are qualified to be around the best of the world. But in the match against HIV/AIDS, Cameroon still has a long way to go. At present only half of the people in need of ARVs receive treatment. So to use a football metaphor: For 11 people on the field battling HIV with ARVs, there are another 11 on the bench, waiting desperately for treatment.

But one out of 11 players develops resistance to ARV drugs. Patients face the old barriers of second-line HIV treatments being too expensive and complex to administer. Again, MSF together with Ministry of Health set out to deliver not only treatment, but proof that it is possible yet again.

As Cameroonian football fans prepare to cheer on their team to victory, scores of patients are sure to huddle around Sylvestre’s TV again in Akonolinga. And as Cameroonian Lions find the back of the collective roar will go up signaling the pride and hope of a nation for their team and for PLWHA.

Marcell Nimfuehr is MSF Communications Advisor for Cameroon