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I haven’t plugged the work I’m doing in Zambia in ages, so thought I’d share the HIV prevention spot my company Media 365 produced on behalf of our client UNICEF, for the Brothers For Life campaign in Zambia.

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!

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.

I just came back from Lagos, Nigeria. I was out there to support MTV’s Africa Award (MAMA) show which was amazing. I also went to Lagos to try to leverage resources for the production and campaign of Shuga 2, both through non-profit and commercial organisations, which led me to UNICEF.

Having a great global relationship with UNICEF, thought it would be good to meet with UNICEF in Lagos and give them first option to buy into Shuga. It was such an insightful meeting – maybe not necessarily for Shuga, but more insight of how HIV/AIDS is impacting people in Nigeria.

Like many places with low prevalence rates but large populations, Nigeria is still not taking HIV/AIDS as seriously as they should. Vulnerable people such as street children are significantly hard to reach – not only because they move around, but because programmes aren’t created for them with them. Policy papers and briefing notes aren’t truly capturing what these kids are going through, it’s the same issues that you read about but not really reflective of what is going on.

Sara, the head of UNICEF out there in Lagos, said she was not prepared for what she heard when she talked to street kids. Having previously served in Nepal, she was used to hearing shocking stories from the streets, but being told about kids selling kids for sex and their casual discussion of drug use, still upset her.

I can’t lie, it upset me too, and I wasn’t hearing it first hand. We talked about how to make sure that whatever we did was sustainable – these kids left home for a reason, we couldn’t be another group to let them down.

It’s not an easy project at all and one that will cost significant resources to undertake. I do get when Gates and others are saying that we’ve got to find cheaper solutions that are effective but I think the problem is everyone is now looking at the $ sign and not the actual project or innovative solution. Also I don’t get the idea of evidence base – evidence shows that peer education doesn’t work that well but people are still putting money into it. Evidence shows that media campaigns can and do work, but no one is investing in the right media initiatives. So… what’s really going on?

I think we could do something really good and rewarding, and informative for street kids and maybe even manage to create some sort of economic solution for them, but can we find the money for it? I hope so, I hope between UNICEF and MTV we have enough clout to make this project work, at least for the sake of those kids. Who knows, if it works in Nigeria, we could roll it out across other regions.

On the other side, the MAMAs were amazing – African music is set to take over the world. They have been in the shadows too long, but they are ready. The eclectic mix of artists from all over the continent – the best of the best – coupled with Eve, Rick Ross and T-Pain and the legendary Public Enemy gave an explosive experience that shows why MTV still is the best at what they do.

So nice to see something positive coming out of Africa again. When you live in the West, it’s easy to forget how much positive stuff is going on in Africa as all you ever hear about here is poverty, pain, civil strife, corruption and a host of other negative stories. If I for a moment wasn’t proud to be African, the MAMAs reminds me of everything that is right about Africa and makes me hold my head up just that much higher.

This is a quick one, but just wanted to say, if you haven’t watched Me, Myself and HIV yet, it’s airing on MTV channels around the world today, so check local listings for times. Otherwise check out the site

Also see our testing diaries, done by celebrities around the world – here is one of my favourites:

Do let me know what you think of it all and join our campaign to get people tested – take the pledge today!

Thanks

The good news is that new HIV infections have fallen by 20% over the past 10 years. 56 countries, including almost all countries in sub-Saharan Africa, have stablised or slowed down rate of new infections.

The bad news is, well, there were 2.6 million people newly infected with HIV in 2009, including 370,000 babies. And still over 7,000 people are newly infected with HIV every day, and that boils down to two new infections for every person that goes on treatment. It’s kind of scary that considering the great reduction, the numbers remain so high. There is still so much to be done, I guess that’s why UNAIDS is calling for a Prevention Revolution.

Prevention works. After the big insistence on everything having to be evidence based before it could be scaled up, there’s enough research out there that shows that prevention works – the 20% decrease for one. But more needs to be done on prevention, more money, more initiatives. The issue is the same, but the audience is different, they are more savvy, more wary, more complacent. The vehicles for spreading the message are different too. New technology has made the mode of communication more advanced, more interactive, and basically given us more opportunities to engage and innovate.

This is key for changing the course of the epidemic – to getting young people to actually pay attention and do something. You have to take risks, almost get banned. Something that unfortunately those holding the purse strings aren’t so sure about doing. I get it, risk and change is scary. Personally, change makes me really nervous, I’m one of those people, that is terrified of embracing change, I don’t like the unknown.

However, this isn’t an issue we can afford to stand still about and play it safe. Change is about evolving, it’s about constantly creating and diversfying and innovating and ultimately being successful, it’s the revolutionary approach that UNAIDS is advocating for…

We did that this year, it also helped that we had most of our own money to do the programme we truely believed in.

I spend a lot of time watching MTV – it could be slightly unhealthy, but hey, you need to know your product right? So last year when 16 and Pregnant premiered in the UK I was hooked. I watched the show each week and the impact it had on me – I decided pregnancy wasn’t for me – made me think how the format informs but also provokes. Observatory documentaries are the new reality shows. There is something grossly appealing about watching other people’s lives, people who aren’t famous, but still seem to be struggling with something. I’m guessing it’s the perverse nature in us that makes us think, ‘wow maybe my life isn’t that bad’, while still making for great, informative, TV.

So I pitched the idea, why not make a 16 and Pregnant style show, but using HIV/AIDS as the focal point? It took some pushing to get buy in but after working with my colleague on the idea, it was greenlit. I didn’t end up working on the show, but I’m glad that we did it. It was a shift from what the Staying Alive campaign has previously done – none of which was bad, but was current for that particular time – we embraced that change and we’re on to a winner. Me, Myself and HIV is a one hour self-narrated programme that follows two 20-something year olds who are HIV+, one in Zambia and one in Minneapolis, USA. It looks at their lives as they go about doing ordinary day to day things, like dating, trying to launch a career, get educated, while balancing living with HIV.

The website follows up with Slim and Angelikah after we finished filming with them. But also shares other stories from people infected with and affected by HIV, as well as providing information for people to get tested, and join our quest to get at least 10,000 people to pledge to get tested.

On the social media side we’re using Twitter to conduct twitterviews with celebs to talk about testing and spread the message on twitter using the hashtag #MTVgettested. We’re using formspring to enable our users to ask Slim, Angelikah and our resident doctor (provided through our partnership with the Hollywood Health and Society) questions. This is a comprehensive campaign that fully integrates analogue and digital. Though our plans for Shuga 2 are even more comprehensive!

The revolution starts here!

Please watch the show, December 1st, and let me know what you think about it. Have we got it right? I don’t know, you let me know. I will leave you with this thought though, enough is enough, in the words of Michel Sidebe, 7000 new infections a day is still unacceptable, we need to put our money where our mouth is and take some risks.

You always hear about celebrities having to be responsible role models, but is that fair? If you have a talent and enjoy using that talent to entertain and make a living out of it, is it then fair to pass judgement if you don’t ‘do the right thing’ when it comes to being a role model? After all, does the fine print to celebrity status say that you have to be a positive influence and give back to your community?

This was the predicament I found myself in a couple of weeks ago when two popular, black, personalities refused to take an HIV test to support a testing campaign I’ve been helping on. At first I was really angry. Our community is disproportionally affected by HIV/AIDS and they wouldn’t take a test to encourage young black (males) people know their status. Knowing them personally I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to see them and give them my opinion on their action, or lack of.

Once I calmed down, about a week later, I started questioning the responsibilities we place on celebrities to be role models and to promote good behaviour. Is this fair? Because you’re good at singing or acting, does that mean that you also need to be a perfect person, or indeed care about the community you live in, when so many others don’t?

My honest opinion on this is yes, you do. You have been blessed with an ability to reach people in ways no one else can. ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’: where is your true relevance or value on earth if you do nothing more than sing and dance to enrich your personal bank account, and don’t leave the world in a better place than you found it?

I think that we all, celebrities and normal citizens alike, have a role in bettering our community. Call me foolish or naive but I do think that if you do nothing to help the world you live in, then you may as well be irrelevant. And if you think that talking about safe sex and promoting responsible sexual decision-making might negatively impact your reputation then you really are lame. You don’t deserve the platform you’ve been given. So yes, they might never speak to me again, but the next time I do see those two, I will explain how I feel about their decision.

Do look out for our World AIDS Day campaign, and spread the word in your community, taking an HIV test is just the start of taking control of your sexual health.

Peace

The last few months have been rather intense, both personally and professionally. Change is always a difficult thing to go through, but sometimes you just have to embrace it and hold on.

With less than a month to go before World AIDS Day, we’re full steam ahead to deliver one of our most integrated campaigns yet – if all goes according to plan. It’s also a new programming format for us, mixing reality style with documentary type story lines. I wish I could say it’s an obs-doc, but it’s not quite, not yet…

Coupled with this one hour special is a dedicated website, which we hope will be a one-stop destination for young people needing to find out all they need about testing and/or living with HIV.

I have to admit this format and indeed this website has been a goal of mine for awhile. When I first lost my brother in 2006, a change started in me, regarding the type of messages I thought we should be communicating to the audience, yes putting across the use the condom message was still important but it wasn’t enough (and I’m simplifying the messages we put across, it was more than just use a condom).

In 2009 when I lost my other brother, I knew it was time to change things up.

I still believe it’s important to put across the more positive, inclusive message of you can live a healthy, productive life with HIV, but I also think we can’t shy away from some of the more negative aspects of living with HIV. Like with any terminal illness there are good and bad days. And with the bad times, it affects everyone who loves you. Never before did the saying ‘if you’re not infected, you’re affected’ resonate with me than when I lost my brother. And even now, as I watch other relatives battling with the virus.

And so the process to tell the real stories of young people living with HIV began earlier this year. Do I think we’ve got it right? Well, I’ll let you guys be the judge of that, come December 1st.

I think there are so many stories to be told that what we’ve started is just the tip of the iceberg and it shouldn’t end here. Ultimately Me, Myself and HIV, should resonate with young people already living with the virus, but also give an opportunity for someone to walk in the shoes of one of these kids (they’re early 20s, hardly kids I suppose), for just one day. It’s not about pity, it’s not about differences, it’s much more about similarities, with that extra layer of HIV to complicate some things.

Look out for it – coming to a screen near you – on December 1st.

With less than two months to go until World AIDS Day, the department has been focussing all our efforts on what is going to be one of our biggest collaborative effort between online and linear TV. It’s always great to have the entire team working towards one goal and getting everyone engaged and on message.

This year is going to be interesting as there’s a lot we haven’t done before, including the TV show, which has taken on a reality style look to it – so it’s going to be exciting.

But I can’t get into it, don’t want to give anything away just yet. Watch this space and I’ll keep you updated.

Oh and I’m no longer on twitter – seems twitter brings way more drama than I ever thought possible 🙂 Oh well, guess you’ll just have to keep up with what’s going on with me here!

I’ll try and not leave it too long for my next post – though I have recurring pharyngitis so have to get lots of rest. I’ll be back real soon though. Until next time – take care of you

My headline is a bit misleading. I don’t mean to suggest that the Pope and the Catholic church are right in their lack of support for people using condoms, but then again, can we blame them?

The Catholic church, like all religions, is founded upon a core set of values and principles. Some of those principles and values are deeply entrenched in Bibilical beliefs: no sex before marriage, natural family planning (or by God’s wish) etc. In essence the condom goes against this.

If something – man made no less (though if God gives man the ability to make these things, surely that’s proof that it’s not a bad thing?) – brings into question all those values, don’t you have a flawed product? So the Catholic church find itself in a weird predicament.

Millions of people are dying as a result of AIDS, that is true. But millions more are seemingly healthy but have lost their way and their faith or any form of relationship with God. The Church is in the business of selling hope, salvation and all that good stuff. If they openly support condoms, even as a method of prevention then they have to admit that their core competence, isn’t a competence at all.

And if one value is questioned or slightly flexible, then what else is? What other ‘sin’ is debatable? I mean think about the reputation of the brand that is the Catholic church?

The brand will have to be repositioned, or maybe even find new markets to enter – they could try China?

Seriously though, to be fair to the Catholic church, they are also one of the few organisations that focus on palliative care of people living with HIV, especially across Africa where so many people living with HIV often aren’t cared for by family and friends. This is in no way to excuse the Pope or the Catholic church, but is testament of their brand values.

The Pope and the Church may have a problem with condoms, and it’s their prerogative – whether we like it or not – but it is extremely irresponsible of them to continously promote negative messages about condoms. That isn’t their line of business nor is it the business they want to go into, and since they aren’t a for-profit organisation, there is no harm in them keeping quiet about it. We all have opinions, but when those opinions harm people, it’s best to keep them to yourself.

I’m actually surprised no one has taken a class action suit against the Pope and the Catholic church as a whole, isn’t it cause enough for mass murder? Because unfortunately, whether we like it or not, people actually listen to what their religious leaders say. (Though the Pope looks kinda scary, why would people listen to him?)

But that being said, I still believe that faith and religion can be such a great healer that if they were to admit that some of what they’re selling isn’t well, authentic, it puts everything the peddle into question, so they still have to look at their numbers and see which will cause more damage I suppose.

And seeing that so many people in Africa are religious, they still turn to the Church for comfort and support when they are diagnosed. The Pope and the Church can survive this, unfortunately.

Of course that’s just my thoughts – as disconnected as they seem. But what do you think? Apart from the obvious, the church and pope are terrible and killing people comments. Just saying…