Copyright 2001

[ November 30th 2001 ]

Former Cameroon soccer star Roger Milla became a United Nations goodwill ambassador on Thursday and promised to use his popularity to highlight the dangers of AIDS in Africa.

Milla, who led Cameroon's Indomitable Lions during their historic drive to the 1990 World Cup quarterfinals, will represent the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS. His appointment comes ahead of World AIDS Day, held every Dec 1. The 49-year-old ex-striker told reporters he was "moved and honored" to join the ranks of international celebrities who travel the world advertising the work of the United Nations.

Since the first clinical evidence of AIDS appeared 20 years ago, more than 22 million people have died. AIDS kills more people than any other disease in sub-Saharan Africa, which has been hit hardest by the epidemic. "This is more than an epidemic - it's a social crisis," said Milla. "AIDS throws millions of orphans onto the streets, forces young girls into prostitution, ruins their chances of education."

He said governments and ordinary people need to do more to stop discrimination against AIDS sufferers and support bereaved family members. He said he planned to tour African nations next year to publicize the U.N. fight against AIDS.

Kathleen Cravero, deputy director of UNAIDS, said Milla will have a powerful influence on young people on the continent. "Roger Milla's status as a sports star will help us spread the message to young people - that they need to change their behavior," said Cravero.

Almost three-quarters of the world's 12 million AIDS sufferers aged under 24 live in Africa, and the U.N. says many continue to practice unsafe sex despite warnings that it can spread AIDS. Since 1954, when the late comedian Danny Kaye became the first goodwill ambassador for the U.N. Children's Fund, leading personalities in the arts, sports and public life have promoted the work of the United Nations.

Current ambassadors include boxing great Muhammad Ali, soccer stars Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane, basketball legend Magic Johnson, actors Michael Douglas and Angelina Jolie and singer Geri Halliwell

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