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AFRICA: Reality TV takes on HIV


Photo: Laura Lopez Gonzalez/PlusNews
Allan Roy Sekeitto, a South African medical student, was one of 12 African youths to participate in Imagine Afrika. Before the show, he had wanted to be a neurologist but now is thinking of pursuing public health.
JOHANNESBURG, 5 May 2008 (PlusNews) - The reality TV show "Imagine Afrika", about to begin its second season, pits 12 young Africans against some of the most serious problems facing their continent, including how to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The show first hit the airwaves in October 2007 as part of a campaign by the African Broadcast Media Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (ABMP), a group of 53 broadcast companies from across Africa that have pledged to commit 5 percent (roughly one hour) of their daily airtime to HIV and AIDS content.

Member television and radio stations produce some of the content themselves, but also carry ABMP-produced content like "Imagine Afrika", which chose the 12 contestants from a pool of 10,000 hopefuls. Producer Mickey Dube said the show was driven by a hopeful vision of Africa's future.

The 12 contestants were broken up into three teams, located in west, east and southern Africa. Each episode presented the teams with a problem - for instance, how to help a child-headed household, how to conduct a voluntary HIV testing and counselling event, how to improve sanitation in an area - that reflected some of the large-scale problems on the continent.

Forgetting the fear factor

"Media is a catalyst that builds awareness and causes people to think about, talk about and make sense of HIV," Dr Ernest Darkoh, global health expert and former manager of Botswana's National Antiretroviral Treatment Programme, told the ABMP's annual workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the weekend.

According to a 2006 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), the country's public broadcaster, nearly 90 percent of South Africans aged 15 to 25 said they believed radio and TV had positive impacts on HIV/AIDS awareness.

Despite years of campaigns and messaging, however, there is still a huge gap between HIV awareness and the realisation of personal risk that causes people to change their behaviour.

Shereen Usdin, executive manager of Soul City, a multimedia project that promotes health and development across southern Africa, said HIV/AIDS campaigns that target people's fear of illness and death may be partly to blame for the slow rate of behaviour change.

"There is a lot of evidence that shows that fear-based campaigns increase stigma and push people into denial - you find ways to assure yourself that you are not at risk because of the emotions that fear-based campaigns stimulate," she commented.

"Experience of past campaigns, where you had skeletons and coffins, may have pushed the epidemic more underground and increased stigma and discrimination."

Imagine Afrika, like many recent HIV/AIDS awareness initiatives, is a departure from the fear-driven approach. Fabian Adeoye Lojede, who developed the show's content, agreed that fear has not worked, but noted that it was also getting more difficult to scare today's youth.

"The threat model, where you just show people dying, is not threatening enough for those born into HIV," he said. "You can't scare them; they don't remember a world where HIV wasn't an issue."

The pan-African challenge

As the show's second season goes into production, the AMBP will be attempting to measure the impact of its first season, based on feedback from broadcasters and independent audits, but said so far the response had been favourable. The first season was aired in South Africa during a prime-time entertainment slot in the evening and increased its audience when replayed during the daytime.

However, the pan-African project still needs to overcome various hurdles in devising programmes that appeal to Africa's diverse audiences with their many different languages and cultures.

''You can't scare them; they don't remember a world where HIV wasn't an issue''
During a discussion at the workshop in Johannesburg, Mutasim Fadel Abdalgadir, of the Sudanese Radio and Television Corporation, said the partnership's broadcasts did not reflect Arab culture.

AMBP programmes are made in English and local broadcasters then provide dubbing or subtitles in local languages, but Anabela Veiga, who works for lusophone Angola's state radio, said she had struggled to translate the content for the country's large number of Lingala speakers from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Michael Sinclair, senior vice-president of the South Africa programme for the Kaiser Family Foundation, an ABMP partner organisation, pointed out that language was not the only impediment. "The content is made to appeal to a pan-African audience, but there are still many different epidemics."

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Theme(s): (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews)

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