You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘HIV/AIDS’ category.

Finally! Pretty much since the day I arrived back in Lusaka I’ve been working on a campaign for UNICEF Zambia, which is an adaptation of a campaign that was rolled out in South Africa around the 2010 World Cup, Brothers for Life (B4L).

The premise of the campaign is actually a really good one, it’s about recognising the role that men play in the response to the HIV epidemic. In South Africa, they used known personalities to declare that there was a new man in South Africa, a new man that takes responsibility.

Interestingly enough when we pretested the materials the idea of a ‘new man’ didn’t hit home, because the young men – who the campaign was intended for – didn’t really see anything wrong with the so called ‘old men’. They couldn’t connect the dots that those men they saw as successful also had certain behaviours that put them at risk of HIV infection, such as multiple partners, not knowing their HIV status, alcohol abuse etc.

So we knew pretty soon that that message was not the one to go with for Zambia, not unless you explained the links and that was going to be too much for a largely shot form (60 second public service announcements) campaign. What we did like was the message of brotherhood, of fraternity and this is what we wanted to focus on in the creative. Also talking to some of the young men, it was interesting to see that they didn’t feel they had a good handle on what it meant to be a man. That was the next piece of the puzzle, don’t talk about a new man, just redefine what it means to be a man.

From this point, we realised that we couldn’t simple do an adaptation from the South Africa campaign but we were actually going to have to reversion it for Zambia. It was hard work but fun nonetheless.

The campaign in Zambia focuses on promoting condom use, HIV testing, address alcohol abuse and gender based violence. One shocking thing that came out of the campaign launch yesterday was when the UNICEF Zambia representative said that about 83% of women in Zambia believed that when their partner hit them, it was a sign of love (I paraphrase but you get the picture). That’s an absolutely shocking statistic but also a sign of why violence against women is so prevalent in the country.

Anyway, Brothers for Life Zambia has 10 personalities who serve as the inaugural ambassadors, all from across various sectors of society. Some of the ambassadors came together to create the campaign song, which is amazing. I hope I’ll be able to share it online soon.

The campaign made me really aware of the talent we have in Zambia, the singers are unbelievable, even tempted me to want to consider managing them (for another revenue stream! lol! but largely because I’d love to showcase that talent to the world).

Anyway, I’m so proud of the Media 365 team, for all the work and effort that was put in to developing such an amazing campaign. The campaign runs for another two years and we’re contracted to deliver a few more PSAs and a documentary, which I can’t wait to do as I really do find the campaign inspiring and I love working with the Ambassadors!

I’ve been gone awhile because I’ve been crazy busy at work and trying to not life go past me. But the other day I heard a story about one of the families we employ and it moved me so much I had to share my thoughts.

About two years ago this man’s daughter was raped – by their landlord no less. She went and got tested for HIV at the recommended times and she was found negative. This past weekend she had another test, as an organisation was doing HIV testing in their neighbourhood, her results came back positive. She’s 19 years old.

The father, visibly upset, told me that he’d told her off for all the men she was ‘moving around with’ (a random Zambian phrase that I’ve never totally understood), and that if she continued to do this she will definitely throw her life away because look at where she is now.

The man wasn’t at all stigmatising his daughter, or at least he didn’t think he was, but did blame her behaviour on her now positive status.

I asked him if his daughter ever had counselling after she was raped and he said a couple of times but then she stopped. I kind of had an aha moment and advised him to get his daughter back into counselling, even if it’s just for the girl to learn how to stay positive with her status.

My aha moment was really as a result of a conversation I’d had with this professor at the University of Western Cape when we talked about how to integrate message on violence against women in relation to HIV. Someone at the time wanted to do a storyline in a show around a woman who gets raped and is infected. While that does happen, it’s actually not the rape that puts a woman at risk of infection, it’s what happens next.

In the movies and TV shows, you usually see the woman who has been raped as the demure, quiet woman who is scared to be touched by a man and shuns sex altogether. Of course the other end of that pendulum is the woman who goes on to become a commercial sex worker (to use a pc term that no one other than in the development world uses) – and clearly sex workers are at risk of contracting HIV. But there is that group in the middle that people don’t really talk about. The ones who aren’t commercial sex workers and aren’t not having sex, but in fact are having a lot of sex. The ones who are for all intents and purposes, promiscuous.

I use the term promiscuous because by definition it means undiscriminating casual sex with many different partners, but I’m not a fan of the term because of its moral connotations. You can’t label a person who has been violated with a term that is moralistic in definition.

I don’t think unless you’ve been through it you can imagine what it’s like to be raped. And while each case is different, and all ultimately result in a woman being violated, I could guess that there are different degrees of rape – none being ‘better’ than the other. But being raped by an acquaintance could bring out a different trauma than being raped by a stranger, and that’s why even each rape survivor is different and while they can relate to some similarities not each survivor can necessarily understand what the other is going through. But I digress.

My point is for those women who are raped and then deal with the aftermath of indiscriminate sexual experiences, they are the ones who are at a high risk for HIV infection. I don’t necessarily think that it’s indiscriminate sex, it’s more that the survivor is looking to gain back the control that they think they lost, and probably afraid to say no. Isn’t it easier to have sex, even if you don’t really want it, than risk being raped again? Though when you think about it, you’re pretty much being raped over and over again, you just think that you are more in control because you said yes rather than no and have it forced on you.

The problem is that society, certainly in Africa (ok Zambia), tends to sweep sexual abuse, rape even, under the carpet, rather than providing the support that victims need. I think that it’s possible for a rape survivor to lead a healthy sexual/relationship life without counselling, but I think it’s probably easier to do this with some counselling and a good support network. Yet we tend to brush counselling off as something only crazy people do. We also have a fear of the confidentiality aspect – not surprising, you hear so many cases of counsellors, doctors even, discussing patients cases it’s scary! But then again rape survivors have to realise that it’s not their fault. If we could move past this shame/blame thing then maybe it would be easier to not go through the indiscriminate sexual practices.

Anyway, my point is that this poor 19 year old girl has probably ended up infected because of unresolved issues as a result of her rape. And this is what we need to remember when dealing with sexual violence and HIV/AIDS, we can’t forget about the after-effects of rape, which a woman can deal with for years after the assault. Specifically in Africa we need to address this because sexual violence is way too common, whether it’s used as a weapon of war in conflict areas (I shudder when I think of the statistics in Congo) or as an every day risk in areas where women aren’t valued and thought of as second class citizens. And while I have used the case of women, it shouldn’t be forgotten that there are male victims of rape too. We need to use our voices to speak for and support survivors and ensure this doesn’t continue to happen to other people.

Peace.

HIV has been an issue for 30 years now, it’s not some infection that we recently found out about, in fact many of us haven’t known a world without it, yet the stigma, and misinformation that continues to spread today is ridiculous.

The other day my mum was telling me how a church congregation were debating whether to continue to do communion for fear of people who were HIV positive in the church (knowingly or not) infecting other church goes. It get’s worse. One of the women in Church who is HIV+ agreed with this because her doctor told her that she could infect others with her saliva.

Yes really. It is true that there is HIV in all bodily fluids but a little bit of research (just on the internet too) would tell you the risk associated with this – pretty much none. So how is it possible to have people believe this nonsense? And spread it around?

I think there have to be so many different HIV campaigns running concurrently that deal with prevention, information, and stigma – because the messages still aren’t being heard. Possibly because people try to save money and roll it all into one campaign. It is funny how misinformation spreads faster than the truth…

Anyway, that was my latest shocker.

Finally! Well more like finally it’s been announced, it feels like i’ve been working on this project for 2 years – oh wait, i have been! But finally, today Shuga II: Love, Sex, Money was announced at a press conference in Nairobi – gutted I wasn’t there, but I imagine it’s been well received as everyone has been waiting for the second series of the award winning drama series.

I obviously can’t say what’s in this season’s storyline – though the scripts are still being developed, but I can say it will be more explosive than Shuga 1! And it will also be six episodes this year – I can hardly contain my excitement.

Working on Shuga is great because it’s such a needed product. Sure there have been other tv series on HIV, but very few (bar Club Risky Business) have done what Shuga does, which is paint the realistic picture of HIV as it relates to young people, and some of the freaky ish young people are getting up to today. It would be nice to think that young people aren’t having sex – and according to UNAIDS, there really are a quite who aren’t, as they are choosing to wait longer for their sexual debut (yay!!) but there are also a lot who are having sex. And if Kenya’s stats are anything like Zambia’s where only 7% of young people reported using a condom the last time they had sex (shock,horror), then there is clearly still a need for programmes that educate people on HIV.

But I don’t think education is enough, and a colleague (who also happens to be – i would say Pedagogist, but there is no such word – so studies pedagogy?) Dr Jim Lees and I agree on the need to look at the human and/or emotional factors that make people take risks, even in their own lives (this is also the study of my sister’s Phd). And that’s one of the things that i like about Shuga, it gets into the emotions and psyche of the characters and maybe even help us understand why we do certain things. Ok maybe not completely in six episodes but it’s a start.

Keep up to date with all things Shuga on the site and of course you can search for MTV Shuga on Facebook. I’ll keep you updated, when I can. Bring on the premiere on February 14th 2012!

I’ve spent the last week in Nairobi listening to stats on HIV there during the day – women are up to 4 times more likely to be infected than their male peers and women in their 20s disproportionately affected etc – and at night, my Kenyan family and I are hitting the bars and clubs. Bend over Thursdays as it was known, thanks to the popular song of the same title – no longer exists but doesn’t mean you can’t go to a club on Thursday night (Thursdays are the new Fridays) and not hear Bend Over come on. As soon as it does, the young women in there go crazy and bend over, and thats when you see some all out daggery that leaves your mouth open.

I get it is a dance, a sexual dance no less, but it is just dancing. Though sometimes that dancing can go a bit far. I’m not a prude at all, but as I hear the stats, I can’t help but wonder how our sexuality plays into all of this.

My issue isn’t so much that here in Africa (or is it even many parts of the world?) we, as in black people, seem to be oversexed, my issue is that we’re made to think this is a bad thing. Cultural as a woman (in many African cultures) we are told to say no to sex, we must never be seen to want sex. But at the same time, women continue to be objectified as a sexual object. Is there any wonder than rape and sexual violence continues to occur? Sometimes women not even fully understanding that they have been raped as isn’t their role to serve a man? Or the misunderstanding that occurs when men believe the no to mean a yes?

Thankfully more and more men are choosing to err on the side of caution and accept no to mean no. But this still doesn’t empower women to say yes.

I look at the sexual health messages that are put out, all about the dangers of unprotected sex – which with our HIV rates is still necessary – but no one is talking about sex as a pleasurable act, not even in healthy relationships. So you have the guilt element coming into play. What is wrong with me if I like sex? Am I a slut? Does this make me a bad woman?

I’d like to say things are changing. In Kenya, I was shocked to hear about just how ’empowered’ women are. Women choosing to have sex when they want to and with whom, including being bisexual or bi-curious. This seems great, until I hit the clubs on Thursday night.

The sexual energy was intense – it would be if you’re dancing to Bend Over I guess – but was it a healthy one? These so-called empowered women, demanding the sex that they want are wearing outfits that made me wonder, are they really empowered or is this just a trend?

Let’s be honest, it’s one of men’s biggest fantasies to see two women at it, and who better than to feed that fantasy than women. Doesn’t it immediately make you more attractive to men if you entice them with that fantasy? So my questioning really became a matter of are women doing this because they want to and makes them happy – i.e. they are empowered – or are they doing it because it makes them more attractive to men?

Until we become absolutely confident in who we are as sexual beings and being comfortable with that, can we really, and honestly be sure about the sexual choices and decisions we make? And to support that level of security, we need the society to enable it, not by condemning sex as some moral issue, but embracing it as a healthy and positive experience, that can be enjoyed safely and responsibly.

I truly believe that once we can give young people healthy messages about sex can we then begin to see a change in our sexual behaviours – so that people aren’t hiding or feeling ashamed of their desires, but enjoying them safely. Yesterday I learnt that only 7% of young people in Zambia use condoms, there have been safe sex messages here for as long as I can remember (er over 15 years), so what isn’t working?

For now we’ll continue to see younger and younger girls doing daggery on the dancefloor and hope that’s where it stays.

Being back in Zambia, the land of MCP (multiple concurrent partnership), there isn’t a day that goes by when there isn’t some conversation of extra-martial relationships, mainly from the men’s point of view. Rarely do people discuss a wife’s infidelity – I guess because, though it is becoming more common, it is still pretty rare.

Men who have ‘other wives’ (mistresses, girlfriends, side-plates, ATMs (assistants to madam), small house, whatever you choose to call them) is quite common in Zambia, to a point of seeming to be expected and accepted. But people still comment on it, so maybe it’s not as accepted as people think. Though married men get away with it, while the wives are the victims and the other women are the sluts, home wreckers, and even on some occasions assaulted by the wives – there has been the public case of the woman who had the other woman murdered and a couple of cases of acid thrown on the mistress’ face.

My personal opinion of this is that wives are not victims, they choose to be if they want to be, but they are not by default victims and women need to stop this mentality. I know what you’re thinking, it’s easy for me to say this because I’m not married. True. But I also hope that if i get married I wouldn’t accept my husband being unfaithful to me.

The men get away scott free. Women blame the other woman, and in some cases the other woman can and should be blamed, because there are some evil women who knowingly go after other people’s husbands. But a lot of married men actively pursue these other women – because they know they can. Sure there is the onus on the other woman to say no to these men, but why should she?

If a single woman, wants to just have fun and not settle down with someone, why is it her problem who the man is? Of course if the said woman falls in love with the man, who obviously won’t leave his way (do they ever?), then she really is up sh*t’s creak and shouldn’t be in that relationship.

I’m not at all defending the other woman, I’m just saying that as a married woman, it was you and your husband who made those vows and if a man isn’t honouring them then put up or shut up. It’s like any other areas of our lives, you don’t like your job, stop whining about it and quit; you don’t like being fat, go on a diet or accept it, etc. But don’t get fooled, you aren’t a victim, we get treated the way we allow ourselves to be treated. I’ll concede that our culture doesn’t really tolerate divorce and we do have traditional says that express the fact that a man’s infidelity won’t break the house, but when your happiness and health (hello, HIV is alive and well) are at stake, then where does culture and tradition get you? As one of my girlfriend’s said, I’d rather be single and happy, then married, alone, and unhappy. Anyway, I’m not that ingrained with my culture, so again, maybe for me it’s easier said than done.

Women have to learn to be empowered, the other day one of these health programme managers told us that the concept of being faithful to one person wasn’t really understood here, because being faithful meant you financially provided for the person and the kids. And herein lies the problem. Until women are financially independent and respected they can’t make the best decisions for themselves. But then again, some of these women are financially independent and they still stay in faithless marriages. As for the whole ‘we’re doing it for the kids’ excuse, sorry but that is all it is, an excuse. We learn about relationships first and foremost from our parents, so what are you teaching your kids? All you’re doing is perpetuating the cycle.

Ok, now I feel like I’m getting self-righteous and high and mighty so i’ll leave it here (and look for my pet cats! lol). It is only my opinion and as a single woman, I guess it is easier for me to say this than if I really was in the situation…

I was so excited to be asked to come and volunteer my time at a TeenSpirit event tonight. TeenSpirit is the youth service of Boyd and Soul, which is a charity that works with people and families living with or affected by HIV. TeenSpirit is specifically for 13-19 year olds and tonight is a career skills evening, which allows these teenages to get career advice, explore career interests and engage with professional in a networking format. The idea is to inspire these kids to explore different professions and motivate them to reach their full potential.

I was absolutely thrilled to participate in this for many reasons: 1) it’s for young people affected by HIV, 2) it’s about mentoring/motivating young people in their careers, 3) it’s an opportunity to give young people of colour professional and positive role models. Three things I care about.

Last night I started thinking about what I should wear. I thought about wearing a nice power-suit type outfit, but then I’d feel too corporate and stuffy and maybe not in line with the MTV image, same thing if it was my high waisted pants, or shift dress, or pencil skirt. Then I thought about my leggings and over-the knee boots with a cute top, but then that might be too hoochie-fied and everyone who knows me knows I’m very big on how your appearance conveys a message, and dressing for the job you want etc.

It reminded me of a time, when I was younger and bought way too much into the MTV image and met one of T-Pain’s management team poolside in a swanky Miami hotel, in a bikini and sarong. At the time, I thouhgt it made sense, it was a saturday, it was freakin hot and it was an informal meet and greet. Now that I’m older and wiser, I shudder to think what impression I made on him. He is on my facebook friend’s list but we don’t really talk…

So I decided to do somewhere in between, fitted jeans, nice top and heels. It’s important to put across a good image of yourself and be respectful of the people you’re meeting with. They might be kids but doesn’t mean I need to disrespect them by not bothering with my appearance. I mean if they speak to me, that’s one of the things I’ll stress.

I’m definitely looking forward to tonight. Maybe it will be something I can take back to Zambia to implement as well. Kids need role models, period.

The last week (oh it’s only wednesday) has been very interesting as I’m in the planning stages of a new production I’m working on (can’t wait to announce it), but after conversations with several people, I realise there are some very serious problems in prevention initiatives and no surprises that people are still getting infected.

Ok, I’m obviously simplifying the issues, but some of the things I see or hear really does make me think hmmmm.

I was looking at the messaging we’re focusing on for this show and it struck me that none of it is new. Not the messages of use a condom, or you can live long, healthy, productive lives if you test positive, or don’t have sex or don’t exchange sex for gifts blah blah blah. So my question to the people debriefing us was, why aren’t these messages working? I don’t want to flog a dead horse and make no impact by focussing on the same messages.

It made me think about the paper my sister wrote for her thesis (ok I didn’t read the whole paper – don’t hate me Tasha!), but I know it was along the lines of how our interpersonal relationships and emotions affect the risks we take. In other words, we know on a rational level the risks involved, but when you’re emotionally invested, you might do something stupid.

Yet rarely in HIV prevention campaigns do we talk about the emotional side of risk taking. I think there are other dynamics as well, such as low self-esteem, lack of personality personal identity and lack of a level of selfishness that puts ourselves first. Some of these are learnt as children and also developed as you mature (but usually post your early 20s). So if the foundation is weak, how can we try and rebuild from the middle of the structure?

And we can’t forget the environments we live in, if we can change the society then maybe we can find a way to get through these messages. But we also have to be honest and not judge people. For example, we need to be clear about the you can live a long and productive life if you test positive, as long as you take care of your health and have the healthcare infrastructure to support this, because let’s be honest, we’ve seen some people who have died within a few years of testing positive. Of course these can be explained, in most cases, but too often we want to gloss over any potentially uncomfortable or ‘sad’ information that might scare people or make them question what you’re telling them. But people aren’t stupid. If you give them all the information they can process it and make informed decisions or understand what happens when things don’t go as planned.

Or if you’re involved in multiple concurrent relationships, don’t tell people they are bad people for being in the relationship – make them safe, not ashamed.

If you tell them the nice, comfortable message and gloss over some of the facts, they don’t trust you – because it doesn’t add up. I’m losing my trail of thought here…

Anyway my point was that when it comes to HIV messaging, we’ve got to look beneath the layers and keep asking why until we get to the core. We need to stop jumping on the bandwagon of what the west powers that be in the HIV field say is the problem, or is the silver bullet. And there are some things that statistics can’t answer or capture – those are the issues of feelings and emotions that we need to learn to incorporate in everything we do. That is if we want to have impact and start making a difference in the HIV/AIDS response.

Time is something we never seem to have enough of. Recently I found out that a project that I have been working tirelessly on for the last 12 months is going to miss its deadline because some of the key players have spent time on what the finer points. Today I found out that my key artist for the project is going to be unavailable for the times we currently have to do that part of the project. I’m extremely frustrated that because nothing was done in a timely matter the whole timeline and project has been shot to hell. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

It’s interesting how the private sector works to a deadline but in the public sector the urgency isn’t quite there, it’s a wonder they get results. Luckily in this case because the project is so popular, I don’t think the time shift will be that big a deal, but I do think there’ll be a limitation on the impact.

This is why I’m not such a huge fan of the investment into evaluation. If the evaluation has already shown the success of a project and no additional funding comes for it, what was the point of the half a million dollar evaluation? Might as well have completely put that money into the project implementation.

At the end of the day, I’m just happy that the project is going to happen (fingers crossed, the contract isn’t yet signed). But I’m also looking into the future for the next project, if it takes this long to get it off the ground, better start working on funding for the next phase of the project. Oh wait, won’t they want the evaluation results first?

I’ve been having some really interesting conversations, both based on my own experience and experiences of some other companies I know, when it comes to working with what i’m now calling the new generation of development organisations. This new generation that likes to take private sector strategies to make them more effective and efficient (I’m guesisng that’s the thinking behind it). Generally speaking I think this could be good for them, as long as they are selective in the strategies they choose and don’t forget their core purpose. A company’s core goal is to make money, a non-profit or development organisation should be to benefit the lives of the communties they serve.

But, now I’m beginning to wonder if some of these development organisations have not lost sight of that with their branding strategies. There is the one organisation that have been given an opportunity to reach 60million viewers across Africa with their message on concurrency and HIV transmission and are on the verge of losing the opportunity merely because they want to direct how their logo should appear.

Another project I know of that has been almost at a standstill over how it will be branded for several months now, yet the core message of the project hasn’t even been discussed.

Am I the only one concerned by this trend?

I definitely understand the importance of these organisations wanting their recognition, especially if they put in the core funding for the project in the first place, but it can’t outweigh the benefits of reaching your intended audience with critical information. And if you invested $150,000 to reach 2-3million people, then isn’t this a massive win to reach an additonal 60 odd million?

Let’s be honest in today’s world anyway, the user has so many ways to find the source of anything – isn’t that exactly why the internet was invented? Well maybe not, but it does it anyway. So if a user sees something on tv, it’s only an internet search engine away to find out all there is about the product, including who is behind it.

And why is your brand so important to the consumer anyway? Exactly what service or product are you selling anyway? If you’re selling a condom for example, then yes, you want your brand name and/or logo all over the project. But if you’re selling the ability to make informed, responsible choices…? Not really sure how your brand comes to play in that. Though I guess you could say ‘because of the US government I have decided to use condom every time I have sex’. Hmmm, who actually says that?

On the other hand, if it’s for other donors where you get money from then why not just include it in your annual report? What are the chances that your donors will see the project in action, with your logo on it?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while brands are important and definitely getting your brand out there is important, must it come at the expense of the social, health, economic development message you’re working to achieve?