Johannesburg - In Africa, 2 300 people are infected with HIV/Aids every week and many of them do not receive treatment. Added to this, the death rate among adolescents has gone up by 50% in the past decade. However, on every other continent, the numbers are dropping.
One of the reasons for this is that many people struggle to talk about sex, which is where edutainment comes in. MTV and the Staying Alive Foundation are working with a host of sponsors to use art to spread a message.
Georgia Arnold, the executive producer of MTV Shuga, says: “It came from experimenting. We did these stories about youngsters affected by Aids. It worked for a day, got people talking and then they would move on. We were telling amazing stories, but it wasn’t enough.”
Then came Shuga with three series.
“The first was in the Ukraine. In the Caribbean, we did a three-episode show, and then a radio show in Kenya. The one in Kenya was the best one – we had Lupita Nyong’o star in it.”
Can attitudes be changed?
“In Nairobi, 60% out of a test group of 1 000 students at Johns Hopkins University 500 had seen the show twice. Something like 80% said they would get tested because of the show. But how could we prove that it would happen and if it was because of the show?” asks Arnold.
After Kenya, they did two series in Nigeria.
“We had the World Bank evaluate the show. They did 5000 screenings and tested kids for chlamydia. There was a control group who didn’t watch Shuga and a treatment group who did - among the group of young girls who watched Shuga, we saw a decrease of Chlamydia infection of 58% over six months as opposed to girls who hadn’t seen the show. And among those who watched Shuga, double the number went to get tested for HIV.”
The unwanted pregnancy story line was done with the help of Marie Stopes, which provides sexual and reproductive health services.
“We now have our first story line with a gay main character. In Nigeria, we couldn’t do this because most of the show is set in high school. Given Stuurman the actor isn’t gay, but he had no issue with it so long as the story reflected the real stories of kids out there,” says Arnold.
All of the content is free and is given to universities and broadcasters. On SABC, Shuga was the most watched drama in its time slot.
Speaking on behalf of Viacom, Alex Okosi says: “Getting involved in this was something we just had to do.”
The Staying Alive Foundation also trains people on the ground. A booklet has been made and teachers have been trained. In Nigeria, they even equip people with the skills to test and counsel youngsters. In 12 months, they trained 160 people and tested 120 000 kids.
Ingenious or idealistic? You decide, but numbers don’t lie.