Culture as a weapon against AIDS
Theatre, soap operas and music have proven to be effective tools
for informing young people about HIV and AIDS in the countries
of Africa. Viewers identify with the stars, the topic comes to
life and behaviour is actually changed: a lesson from the world
Noah Meli is HIV infected but unwilling to admit it. The soap
star dies at the beginning of Heart & Soul, after which a disturbing
drama unfolds in the course of six episodes. This soap opera, which
can be viewed on television and heard on the radio in both English
and Kiswahili, is hugely popular in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
The plot is exciting, the actors are true-to-life and the topics
The initiators - the UN, World Bank, British Council and the BBC
- make no bones: the soap's message is being clearly understood.
The viewers learn more from it than from the massive publicity
campaigns that governments, international organisations and NGOs
have been launching since the mid-1980s. These attempts to inform
the public about HIV/AIDS brought virtually no changes in behaviour.
The complex HIV/AIDS epidemic in the countries of Africa requires
a multi-dimensional strategy, according to UNAIDS and UNESCO. In
May 1998 these organisations collectively launched the project 'A
Cultural Approach to HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care', with the objective
of involving cultural activities in the battle against AIDS.
Since then the project has given birth to a Plan of Approach,
four policy manuals and a manual for socially-tinted interactive
theatre productions for the youth, and regional workshops and conferences
have been organised. The premise is to adapt information and training
to the culture of each target group. The expressive arts play the
A variety of countries have adopted this way of thinking. Ethiopia
now has a drama series on the radio. In Ghana, Tanzania and South
Africa, local hip-hop stars sing about the dangers of unsafe sex,
and their songs lead the hit parades. In Malawi a number of artists
that cooperate in The Story Workshop strive to change social behaviour
by means of radio soaps, videos, music, stage performances and
a comic book that tells the tale of two children who lost their
parents to HIV/AIDS.
The East African soap Heart & Soul is now broadcasted by TV
Africa in 22 countries on the African continent. There are plans
to produce a theatre version in the next five years and to develop
an information package for young people.