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New radio drama spreads AIDS awareness
Tuesday 16 November 2004
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SWAZILAND: New radio drama spreads AIDS awareness

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

©  IRIN/James Hall

AIDS radio drama producer Ntombiyembuso Tfwala

MBABANE, 11 August (PLUSNEWS) - A new radio drama aimed at transforming Swazis' knowledge of AIDS into a change in personal behaviour began broadcasting this week.

"The show's purpose is to give information, but I think it is fundamentally different from other attempts at AIDS communication in Swaziland during the past 15 years," said Alan Brody, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) country representative, who is sponsoring the drama.

"The information is now out there - people know all about AIDS - but this knowledge hasn't changed behaviour. We aim to do that," Brody told PlusNews.

Entitled 'Even Now There is Still Hope', the 15-minute drama, followed by a 15-minute panel discussion, will be broadcast twice weekly on public radio's SiSwati language station.

"The programme is based on a theatrical presentation, that was itself based on a health motivator lecture, which was very successful in showing how HIV is spread from one individual to another until an entire community is at risk," said the programme's producer, Ntombiyembuso Tfwala.

AIDS activist Reverend Pat Wright conceived of a cardboard display with cutout characters to show the relationships between family members and lovers, from married couples to cheating spouses, and even sexual predators. All inadvertently passed on HIV to their partners or victims. Each character was connected by a string, until the board resembled a colourful spider's web of entangled relationships. At the end, the viewer understood how it was possible that in 10 years HIV has come to infect a third of the Swazi population.

Brody wrote a script for health motivators using the board, called 'The String Game', and UNICEF produced dozens of boards for presentations at mostly rural community centres throughout the country. Swazi theatrical producer Modison Magagula mounted a traveling stage production of the game. Because of the explicitness of the subject matter, including a dramatisation of a child rape and a headmaster's seduction of one of his schoolgirls, the UNICEF team was concerned about a backlash among conservative Swazis.

"When we did it as a drama, the people who saw it said, 'Thank you, now we understand'. We showed it to a group of national church elders. Not one of them complained: 'This is immoral. This isn't our culture. How dare you present such things!' Their reaction was identical: 'Thank you. Now we understand'," said Magagula, who adapted his theatrical version to the new radio series.

Commenting on the radio show's similar use of sexually explicit incidents, the Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Public Service and Information, Pat Muir, said at the radio programme's launch: "How often do we hide behind culture? 'Culture doesn't permit this!' We must be honest, and call a spade a spade, the way this show does."

After excerpts of the radio drama involving the sexual molestation of a child were played, Information Minister Themba Msibi said, "We need more noble programmes like this on the national radio. We are dying like flies - funerals are our weekend activity."

"People will listen to these stories and be entertained, but the shows contain all the latest information woven into the plots. Afterward, people will discuss the fate of the characters. The show's goal is to get people to think what they would do if they faced the ... characters' situations. How would they avoid AIDS?" said Vumile Dlamini, the project coordinator for UNICEF and one of the original string game presenters in rural communities.

"The story shows people's positive reactions to the AIDS crisis. People get tested: young people before getting married; women about to give birth, so there can be intervention to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. ARVs were not available when the project began, now they've been written into the scripts," she said.

Brody noted the philosophical shift in AIDS information dissemination evident in the programme. "Too much of our message has been like soldiers giving commands: 'Be faithful! Use condoms! Be tested!' But people are not ours to command - they don't have to take our orders. The radio show engages people to think for themselves about the AIDS reality in their communities and in their lives," he said.


Recent SWAZILAND Reports
Construction declines as impact of HIV/AIDS builds up,  5/Nov/04
Men urged to take more responsibility in curbing HIV/AIDS,  7/Oct/04
Grassroots approach to orphan care,  22/Sep/04
Holistic approach to combating HIV/AIDS,  8/Sep/04
New survey shows much lower HIV infection among youth,  27/Aug/04
VIH Internet
Sida Info Services
Le Fonds mondial de lutte contre le SIDA, la tuberculose et le paludisme
Le Réseau Afrique 2000

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