Lagos Nigeria – To mark World AIDS Day 2016, the Red Ribbon Coalition, a strategic public-private sector alliance convened by Coca-Cola Nigeria, comprising Youth Empowerment Foundation (YEF), Youth Empowerment and Development Initiative (YEDI), Society for Family Health (SFH), and various private sector partners, is set to directly provide free HIV Testing Services (HTS) for 18,000 persons as well as reach over 5million people with correct HIV/AIDS information. To achieve this, the Coalition which is in its second year, is targeting multiple communities across 11 High-Risk states in Nigeria including Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Edo, Enugu, FCT Abuja, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, and Oyo with a combination of activities which include media awareness, voluntary counselling and testing, public education and awareness sessions and a Novelty Celebrity Football match.
The Red Ribbon Anti Stigma and Anti-Discrimination campaign, a pan-Nigeria initiative which directly benefitted over 9,000 persons across 4 Nigerian States last year, plans to leverage the combined wealth of experience and geographical spread of its members during the weeklong community HIV Testing Services (HTS) beginning with a media parley on November 30, and followed by HTS from December 1, 2016 across various communities in the states involved. It will also harness the power of celebrity advocacy to create awareness on major public health issues by converging leading stars in Nigeria’s football, music, comedy and movie industry to work together as advocates for the fight against stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV during the celebrity Novelty Match, scheduled to hold on Saturday December 3, 2016 at Campos Square, Lagos Island.
Other plans include integrating new initiatives into the campaign including female celebrity open placard display, fundraising for children orphaned by the disease and stimulation of a broader stakeholder involvement, and various impactful activities targeted at reaching many Nigerians with free HIV/AIDS services to mark this year’s event which is commemorated globally on December 1 every year. The coalition which is chiefly funded by global beverage giant, Coca-Cola and supported by MAC AIDS Fund, Ford Foundation, also has support from private partners like Owu Sportswear, Nigeria Business Coalition Against AIDS (NIBUCAA), the media, ex-Super Eagles stars, among several others.
On the need for an alliance against HIV/AIDS, the coalition’s convener, Emeka Mba who is the Community Affairs Manager, Coca-Cola, said: “This year, we are building on the successes made at the inaugural edition last year by mobilizing and sensitizing people to know their status with the provision of free HIV testing services in a friendly environment, tackling issues of stigmatization, discrimination and fear of getting tested, promoting social inclusion and adequate care for People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and stimulating a larger Stakeholder involvement,”stressing that no individual, government, or organization can singlehandedly make meaningful progress in the fight against HIV/AID.
On her part, YEF’s Executive Director, Mrs. Iwalola Akin Jimoh noted that apart from the direct beneficiaries of HIV Testing Services, there are also plans to reach about 5million people with up-to-date HIV/AIDS information via various platforms, while also covering the area of Prevention of Mother-to-child Transmission, PMTCT.”
YEDI’s Executive Director Anu Ishola noted that the pan-Nigeria coalition will leverage each party’s strength and network and also celebrity advocacy which according to her is a better way of pushing back the scourge. “When you have a strategic alliance that boasts of credible NGOs like SFH, YEF and YEDI and other private sector partners, and a star-studded Novelty match which will feature ex-Super Eagle Stars like Emmanuel Babayaro, Peter Rufai, Celestine Babayaro, Victor Agali, ifeanyi Udeze, among others, then the stage is set for reaching out to a large spectrum of Nigerians as far as HIV testing, counselling and awareness are concerned.”
Mrs. Jimoh added that the celebrity novelty match will provide an environment conducive to a large turnout of young people to access free HIV testing services while being treated to a rare but entertaining game of soccer alongside music, light refreshment and other fun activities.
While expressing gratitude to funders and members of the coalition, Mr Mba stressed the urgent need for the government, corporate organizations, individuals and all hands to be on deck in the fight against the HIV pandemic: “With support from Coca-Cola, last year was the first time a coalition of NGOs, SFH and private partners would organise a pan-Nigeria World AIDS Day events. It is no longer news that about 3.4million Nigerians are living with HIV, and sadly enough, many of these people don’t even know they have it. A major and faster route to sustainable progress in this fight is when we all come together. Coca-Cola can’t do this alone, MAC Cosmetics can’t do this alone. This present coalition can’t. Now, more and more organizations are coming on board, but imagine what we can achieve in the coming years with many stakeholders on board,” he noted.
Mr. Mba ended by re-emphasizing Coca-Cola’s commitment to building partnerships that promote development and growth, which according to him does not end by the provision of funds for noble and well-meaning initiatives such as this, but also by active participation and bringing social equity to the table.