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Soccer spectacle to slay AIDS scare

- Jharkhand’s Bundu team wins match, Bengal scores in awareness

Ranchi, Dec. 1: Next-door neighbour Bengal has scored a goal with a difference on World AIDS Day, something that Jharkhand State AIDS Control Society can do well to emulate.

Like in the past six years every December 1, soccer clubs across the state made a trip today to Purulia — the Bengal district that shares its borders with five Jharkhand districts — to generate awareness with sporting action.

The football match at Kusi village, Purulia’s Jhalda block, between 16 teams — 10 from Jharkhand and six from Bengal — gels well with this year’s World AIDS Day theme of “shared responsibility: strengthening results for an AIDS-free generation.”

At the end of the day, both the top two teams were Jharkhand’s own Bundu and Sonahatu clubs.

Bundu finally beat Sonahatu 1-0 to take home the handsome prize money of Rs 1 lakh.

Convener of AIDS Conscious Society, the organiser of the event, Shankar Mahto said: “Football is huge among youths of Bengal and Jharkhand. We have this concept of double-khasi (twin goats as prize) tourneys. Piggybacking on football’s popularity, we decided to launch a daylong football tourney for AIDS awareness among at least 20,000 spectators at one go instead of going from door to door.”

The organisers as well as players approach several small-scale industries from their local areas for sponsorships.

This year, spectators, who chose to sit and watch the match, paid Rs 100 or more per chair.

“The idea was a big hit,” said Jugal Kishore Mahato, a Kusi resident and active in organising the tourney.

“Football is the best way to alert youths on HIV-AIDS. Most youths in Bengal and Jharkhand leave villages for jobs in Mumbai, Delhi, Punjab and Haryana and others but come home around this time to stay till Tusu Parab in January. This is a high-risk group for having unsafe sex or injecting drugs through needles and sharing them,” Jugal said.

Volunteers go around talking to spectators about HIV and AIDS during match breaks.

“We talk about safe sex and saying no to sharing needles. We also encourage people to get blood tests done at intervals. We can see a change in mindsets now. Youngsters say bindaas blood test karo (feel fearless while getting blood tests done),” Shankar said.

A free blood test and counselling camp was organised near the Kusi grounds, supported by Purulia District AIDS Prevention Control Unit (DAPCU) a chapter of West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society.

On how the state is faring in HIV-AIDS combat, Virendra, deputy director (STI) Jharkhand State AIDS Control Society, said: “Jharkhand is a low-prevalence state. With increasing awareness, the trend of getting tests done has gone up, which means the number of identified people living with HIV has increased. But it does not mean AIDS is on the rise.”

Virendra added that awareness was the only way to prevent HIV infection from spreading, help those already infected to live longer and reduce discrimination.

The incidence of HIV-AIDS is found most in East Singhbhum, Hazaribagh, Giridih and Palamau. Anti-retroviral centres operate in Hazaribagh, Dhanbad, Bokaro, Ranchi and Jamshedpur.

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