UNITED NATIONS -- As football players gather in New York and New Jersey ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl, some have taken on a critical battle off the field — the global fight against HIV/AIDS, particularly in Haiti.
More than a dozen athletes from football and other sports joined Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Sidney Rice, who will play in the Big Game against the Denver Broncos, at the United Nations this week to spread a message about the importance of prevention, increased access to treatment globally and the value of sport for development.
The global AIDS prevention community expects Rice and others to develop business plans that include campaigns to prevent infection, said Djibril Diallo, senior adviser to the executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS.
“We want to make sure that football comes back to its true meaning, that is to use its convening power to deal with prevention,” Diallo said, adding that the partnership between current and former NFL players and the U.N. was “historic.”
The athletes gathered at U.N. headquarters Thursday as guests of Rice, the Jack Brewer Foundation and UNAIDS.
The athletes and celebrities who joined Rice on Thursday at U.N. headquarters included four-time NBA All Star player Jerry Stackhouse and Rapper Pras Michel of the Fugees.
There was particular focus on Haiti and the Caribbean, a region with a disproportionate prevalence of global AIDS infections. According to a UNAIDS report, the Caribbean had a quarter of a million people living with HIV in 2012.
Haiti has seen recent success in curbing new HIV infections and tuberculosis, but a cholera outbreak continues to present serious public health challenges.
“We haven’t ever stopped shining a light on Haiti,” said Jack Brewer, a former NFL player whose foundation, which focuses on eradication of extreme poverty, organized the Global Ambassadors Sports for Development Summit.
“You have a wide receiver from the Super Bowl team here, hall of fame athletes here, and you have U.N. ambassadors – this is how you start a movement,” Brewer said. “We’re taking professional athletes and using sport as our tool for development.”
Thursday’s event kicked off with a screening of the documentary Resilient Hearts, directed by Haitian actress Claudine Oriol. The film follows Haitians and Haitian Americans whose lives were upended by destruction and grief in the wake of the 2010 earthquake. Oriol said she expects the documentary to have New York and Los Angeles premiers in September.
The summit also coincided with the official launch of UNAIDS’ “Protect the Goal,” a campaign fronted by Ndaba Mandela and Kweku Mandela, the grandsons of the late South African president and civil rights icon Nelson Mandela.
Through sport, the initiative aims to raise awareness of HIV among young people and will be active at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil in June.