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Using theatre to encourage HIV testing
Thursday 21 October 2004
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SOUTH AFRICA: Using theatre to encourage HIV testing

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


Using theatre to educate trade union members

DURBAN, 6 October (PLUSNEWS) - A trade union in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province has launched a theatre project to encourage more union members to know their status by coming forward to be tested for HIV.

The Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers' Union (SACTWU) AIDS Project has employed five retrenched workers from the textile industry to perform in four soap-opera style plays, shown during lunch breaks in clothing factories throughout the province.

SACTWU hopes to present the theatre play to 10,000 union members this year. "It is our aim to [ultimately] educate every single person in the industry," said Dr Feroza Mansoor, national director of the SACTWU AIDS Project.

The play is set in a factory environment and the actors play workers who tackle issues such as the importance of knowing one's status, disclosure, nutrition and the rights of HIV-positive employees.

"The audience sees people from the industry on stage, who play people from the industry and can this way easily identify with what is happening on stage," explained Mansoor.

According to Mansoor, the initiative was prompted by the fact that conventional awareness programmes in the form of talks and slide shows had "reached a saturation point and became boring" to factory workers. "It is easier to get workers to listen to a play than to a lecture," she explained.

But the success of the plays in motivating workers to know their status remains to be seen, despite a positive response from the audience, noted Mansoor.

In the last two years, only about 1,000 of SACTWU's 36,000 union members in KwaZulu-Natal have participated in its in-house HIV-testing programme - the highest number of members to have undergone voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) in the country.

According to SACTWU, few labour unions offer their members a voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) programme but the union has begun to offer free VCT services, with a SACTWU-employed nurse testing and counselling union members and their families.

"We found that factory workers are particularly reluctant to use employer-owned health care units, out of fear for discrimination," she said.

The SACTWU AIDS Project is faced with major funding problems, and financial support for its awareness campaigns will run out by the end of this year.

Nevertheless, Mansoor is hopeful that the programme will continue in 2005. In an attempt to be financially independent, the cast will soon be offering theatre performances to other companies for a fee. "We are not trying to make a profit, but to cover basic costs and salaries for the five actors."

Keeping the project running is crucial, as the actors are unlikely to find work - the textile and clothing industry has been experiencing severe cutbacks in the last few years.

The SACTWU AIDS Project's next campaign is to establish a home-based care network for HIV-positive union members and their families by early next year.


Recent SOUTH AFRICA Reports
AIDS orphan village planned,  12/Oct/04
HIV/AIDS care centre not being fully utilised,  8/Oct/04
Vaccine research struggles to find trial participants,  5/Oct/04
Countering the impact of child abuse,  27/Sep/04
A health system under pressure,  24/Sep/04

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