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Sony to use World Cup to raise HIV/AIDS awareness

Sony will turn huge local interest in this summer's World Cup finals in South Africa into an opportunity to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS among thousands of people expected to watch live matches at the firm's communal screenings.

The consumer electronics maker is to screen about 20 games in 12 cities in Ghana and Cameroon — which have both qualified for the tournament — between June 13 and July 11.

Sony, which launched the campaign in Tokyo with the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) and the Japan international cooperation agency, hopes that of the 13,000 people expected to attend the screenings, at least 1,800 will take free HIV tests. Health workers will also hand out condoms and offer counseling.

UNDP administrator Helen Clark said the project was part of continued efforts to honor the millennium goals of eradicating extreme poverty and reducing deaths from AIDS, malaria and other infectious diseases in the world's poorest countries by 2015.

"There can be no spectators in the fight against poverty," Clark said. "Everyone has a role to play in scoring the millennium goals, which if reached would improve the quantity and quality of life for many hundreds of millions of people across developing countries."

The program's organizers hope to exploit the obsession with football in Cameroon and Ghana, where only about a fifth of the population have access to TVs, to address high HIV/AIDS infection rates.

Sony, a World Cup sponsor, will also arrange for 15,000 South African children to watch live matches and combine their trip with education on HIV/AIDS prevention.

About 22 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are living with HIV/AIDS, according to UNAIDS, with almost 2 million new infections reported in 2008 alone. In Cameroon, the disease affects more than 540,000 people, including 45,000 children aged under 15. In Ghana, about 260,000 people are living with the disease.

"I am delighted that Sony can contribute to the prevention of HIV and AIDS," said Sony's chief executive, Sir Howard Stringer. "Sony will continue to support the U.N.'s efforts to achieve the millennium development goals as a central part of our corporate social responsibility activities."

Sony has also developed durable footballs that will be sent to Africa in the run-up to the tournament. The footballs, made from vegetable-based plastic, last 1.6 times longer than conventional balls. The firm will donate one for every 1,000 clicks on the project's website and hopes to have provided 3,000 footballs by the time the finals start in Johannesburg on June 11.

Sony cameras will provide 3D coverage of 25 matches in South Africa, a technological leap that Stringer promised would bring "extra depth, vividness and a excitement."