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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.

I have to admit, I don’t really watch animated programmes, maybe a few on adult swim, but otherwise, cartoons are for kids, right?

So the other day when my sister asked me to get her a copy of The Princess and the Frog so that she could host a screening for ‘the kids’, I thought, maybe I should watch the movie and see why she wants to show the kids. I only knew two things about the movie; 1) it’s was Disney’s first film with a black princess and 2; the controversy of the frog/prince being some ambiguous race.

With my very short attention span, I did not think I was going to be able to sit through the whole thing on Sunday afternoon. But I did. And I actually enjoyed it, didn’t even forward most of the songs.

It was great because I stupidly assumed that it would literally be a remake of the classical children’s story about kissing the frog who’s actually a prince and you become a princess. So I was surprised to see the twist to it.

However, the only thing that really made the ‘princess’ black – her skin colour and the fact that she thought kissing a frog was disgusting. I shouldn’t complain about the lack of ‘stereotypical’ black nuances that we enjoy joking about, but hate other races talking about, because the reality is all black people are different. As long as I can show my future daughter a cartoon character, a Princess, that looks like her, I should be happy.

And the message in the show is so good too – the things that matter, that makes are human is love. Or is that we need to find someone to love to be whole? Hmmm, there’s a thought.

Anyway, it struck me how as children, we get all these messages through programming that teaches us about love, humanity, respect, being ourselves etc. As we grow up those messages change to be about being all about self, money, sexual gratification and all sorts of messages that you have to wade through to find something that actually matters.

Yes it is that as adults – or even teenagers – we’re supposed to have a sense of decision making skills, we don’t need to be told, we have the ability to choose right from wrong and make the best decisions for ourselves. But I just don’t think that’s the reality. I think there are so many mixed messages that young people, who very rarely have the acumen for life-skills, just get confused. They’re childhood upbringing (for most of them) tells them one thing, and the media they now consume, tell them another. So they are no longer aligned with their soul.

You’d say that my line of work makes me partial to programme that gives positive messages, but it’s not that, it’s the choice that I made. I have two loves: making TV programming and fighting injustice. And I believe in the power of TV. The power it has to entertain, and the power it has to educate. And children’s programming does that brilliantly.

I hope as we develop our campaigns we get stronger and stronger at this. I know it’s working already, just look at Shuga. In case you missed it, here’s the piece CNN’s African Voices did on Shuga:

http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/international/2010/10/25/av.shuga.kenya.mtv.bk.a.cnn

I actually mean the global south and north here. Over the last few months (for some reason I’ve been more mentally aware of my surrounds in this period) I’ve realised how different cultures can be and the impact this must have on young people split between them.

I was born in Zambia and spent my formative years split between London and Stockholm. I moved back to Zambia as a teenager and then relocated to London in my early twenties. So I’ve moved around a fair bit and I’ve always been grateful for this because it opened my mind. As a teenager, my sexual education was influenced by living in the liberal city of Stockholm, this actually made it easier for my sisters and I to launch the sexual educating magazine, Trendsetters, in Zambia.

But the respect and values I came with to the UK were from my Zambian culture. So sometimes I still recoil when I hear a child talking back to their parents (disrespectfully I mean). It also affects my perception of ‘appropriate attire’ – I was going to say covering your modesty, but hey who am I kidding, I used to love my mini-skirts! Though I was erm, ok not really 18, I may have had some suspect outfits at 16! Still, I find it disturbing to see some of the clothes people leave their houses in, during the day or even going to work in.

Though my point comes when I think about how some things are so much more acceptable here than they are for our cultures back home – or at least people make it seem like it is. One one hand young people are encouraged to embrace their sexuality and that it’s ok to sexually experiment. Hell, babies having babies are ok. When my other Zambian friends and I get together we do joke about how if this was Africa, such and such wouldn’t be happening – and brush it off.

The other day as I was recounting an incident where I thought a man was having a relationship with a very young girl because he was touching her, what my African upbringing would suggest inappropriately, turned out it was his daughter, I realised just how different these cultures are. Most of my western colleagues didn’t think there was anything wrong with a father putting his hand on his teenage daughter’s thigh while they were talking, whereas that would be a huge no no in Zambia.

All this got me thinking – how do teenagers, more specifically the African youth in the diaspora bridge these gaps? How do they manage to choose the good from their cultures back home – because let’s be honest, there are some parts of the African culture that really undervalue women and we don’t need that – with the good part of the western culture (back chat not included)?

My friend and I laugh at our different experiences of wearing shorts in front of our fathers – another no no after a certain age – hers was her aunt telling her off (though she pointed out that if her dad bought them in the first place, why shouldn’t she wear them), mine was my father actually telling me it was inappropriate – I always forgot though, I’m sure on some occasions he just walked out of the room (Lol). Then I think of a visit to my aunt’s house (here in the UK) and finding her son’s girlfriend sitting on his lap and kissing him in front of her – shock horror! And they shared a bedroom the whole weekend I was there. It sounds ridiculous when I write it – because I’m thinking of it from a Western perspective, but I’m not sure that even at my age I’m having my boyfriend sleep in my room at my parents house… maybe if we’re engaged it would be ok, maybe.

This is something we sometimes forget when we’re educating young people – how various cultures influence their lives. Be it because of where they go to school, where they live or even because of the TV programmes they watch. If you don’t speak to them with those cultural influences in mind, how can you expect the message to sink in? You may not agree with it, you may even want to mock it, but if you want to make a difference, try to understand where they’re coming from.

In the early days of HIV prevention messaging in Zambia, the US agencies came in pouring money into the ‘talk to your parents about sex’ message. Because they didn’t ask (or maybe they didn’t do the right research) it took them awhile to realise that the reason that message never worked was because in our culture, you don’t talk to your parents about sex, you talk to your aunt – as a girl, or your uncle, if you’re a boy.

People know this in commercial advertising, I have no idea why it’s taken so long in public health. Ok I know a lot of campaigns do do this now, but there are still a few that make me say hmmmm.

With the International AIDS Conference just over a month away, we’ve decided our focus for the conference is going to be on leadership – yeah, we know the theme is rights, but hey, leadership is equally important.

And it got me thinking, leadership in the fight against HIV is crucial, it just is, but then again leadership in general is just as important. And i mean this in our every day life, yet few people are willing to take up that leadership position and I wonder why?

I don’t mean leadership in the sense of ruling over the masses, but much more about taking control of your life and responsibility for your actions and the decisions we make. I find this too often in the work place, people are generally afraid to make decisions. I would understand this predicament if they weren’t empowered to do so, though that begs the question of who is not empowering them to do so?

Maybe I’ve never worked for a controlling, tyranny of a boss (because that would be me), so I’ve always had a sense of getting on with the job and making decisions. It helps to have strong convictions that you’re right!

I don’t always get it right, but I learn, dust myself off and move on. I’m not sitting around waiting to be told, I just get on with it, freeing up time for my line manager who doesn’t need to micromanage me. I don’t understand why other people can’t do this. I believe when you are given responsibility for something, a project, an event, a business unit, or even just a title, you have been empowered to take the leadership role for that initiative. There isn’t any excuse not to be a leader.

Now leadership in my personal life? Ok, that one I’m still trying to figure out, in that case I’m much more of a reluctant leader – I find it easier to make a decision on a $1million project, than what I should eat for dinner (the healthy option or the one I really want to eat despite the pounds it will add to my waistline). My conviction in my sense of self isn’t quite as strong I suppose.

Focusing on personal leadership and responsibility is so important. We can’t expect the so called leaders to solve all our collective problems, and sitting around moaning about it isn’t going to help either, but personal responsibility and personal leadership might just tip the scales in our favour. Just saying…

I’m trying not to feel jaded. It’s hard not to when I try to think of the good tv programming on HIV/AIDS – that isn’t a predictable, done before format.

Is it because HIV/AIDS is such a difficult issue with loads of political ramifications? Is it because people don’t care? Or people are too scared to offend some people?

I really don’t know what it is, but sometimes, I wonder what the end goal is with some programming ideas. I’m not talking about any shows in particular, just generally thinking of what I’ve seen in the last few years.
I did like the story line in Greys Anatomy which was set back in the day when AIDS was called GRID. That was good because it looked at it from the stigma point of view, but then brought into perspective other discrimination/stigma from the day i.e. inter-racial dating, black and female doctors being the first of their kind etc. (not first, but you know what i mean). And I thought that was good because it put it into a context that people could relate to. It just made HIV/AIDS more accessible i think.

That’s one of the things I struggle with – definitely for the audience I have to reach – how do you make HIV/AIDS accessible? The reality is, that while there are millions of people living with the virus, and countless other affected by it, there are even more who are not infect and seemingly unaffected. That’s the audience I want to reach, because in this day and age, in the global world we live in, how can you think you’re unaffected?

I want to re-establish the African thinking of ‘it takes a community’. We, as a people, inhabiting this planet are the community. Call me the eternal optimist (in all my cyniscm), but I do believe that if humanity comes together we can stop the spread of HIV and at the same time create an environment that protects and supports those already living with the virus. But people have to want to do this, people have to be moved to do this. We need a new generation of people who care about us and not about me – the ‘we, not me’ generation (as coined by someone in the office). And I do think that media has a big role to play in making this happening. Aaaah if only had had loads of cash myself, the programming i’d make! one day…

I’m back in London and feeling quite energised after my trip to LA – not only because of the refreshing weather (which obviously did help), but because of the research agenda conference. I was quite hasty in my judgment of the ‘research’ people not being able to think outside the box, because by the end of the two days they had proved me wrong, with some really insightful approaches. It’s given me the desire to want to do something new.

The research stuff was also interesting – I was worried that they’d use jargon that I’d have no idea what they were talking about, but a lot of it was in layman’s terms. They also did a lot of stuff on social networking that was really interesting. One of the most interesting presentations revolved around the idea of social networks being associated with behaviour – ultimately people associate with others like themselves.

It seems obvious enough – and actually if you’ve ever been to any school with the cliques (or even in workplace settings coming to think of it), you’ll know how important the influences in these networks can be, and even the importance of your social networks. Such thinking helps you to target your efforts – think about it, the diffusers of change will be faster when led by popular opinion leaders (think Oprah).

Now I need to figure out how to identify the influencers for our audience… Though thinking about it, it’s probably the people we see in popular culture… hmmmm that might be a bit of a problem. Let me think about that one.

I’m really excited that next week I’ll be participating in the Hollywood Health and Society research conference in LA. And not only because I’ll be in LA and getting away from this lovely British weather!
The conference aims to bring together top researchers to discuss the challenges and limitations and way forward with research on entertainment education and global health policy. Ok written down it does seem quite boring.
It is fascinating though. For some of us who have been doing entertainment education for well over 10 years (scary but true), this really is interesting. Instinctively you know it works (entertainment education that is), and you can do focus groups, and survey people on intentions/actions as a result of the programme or track feedback, calls to helplines, traffic to sites etc, but is that enough?
So what is the research you need to be doing and if its self-reported, how do you know its true? Other limitations are the obvious ones with focus groups – how do you know participants aren’t telling you what you want to hear? I’m not a researcher so those are the thoughts that come to my mind but I’m sure a good, qualified researcher knows how to combat this… I guess.

But when you work in a global environment where people are different, they receive and respond to messages differently, and indeed even the message delivery is different, how do you measure it in order to do effective comparisons? These are the questions I ask myself whenever we air a show globally. Is it ineffective if people in one part of the world didn’t like it, or if it didn’t move them to act or engage? Or is it all good as long as someone somewhere in the world got it?
The more I work in this sector – of entertainment education – the more I want to make sure we’re getting it right, so I’m excited to go to this conference, just at the thought of learning something that might positively impact my work – that and the fact that I’ll be near the beach!

Sorry I’ve been away for awhile, I’d gone away to help a friend ‘find herself’. As a ‘grown up’ woman, I do find it sad and hard to believe how many so called grown women are still battling with self-esteem issues. I suppose in a way we all have those feelings once in awhile where we doubt ourselves in one aspect or another. But this women, she seems to perpetually be in that state. On the surface, she’s a beautiful successful woman. She’s intelligent, and has a body to die for. But inside, it’s like she hasn’t caught up with that exterior. She’s like a young girl, stuck somewhere between being a little girl and being a woman.
This causes all sorts of problems for her in her personal life, she always seems to be caught up in destructive relationships – with men who cared nothing for her. If you meet her you’d think she’s a strong, independent, opinionated woman, but know anything about her relationships and you’d wonder if it was the same person. She tended to be with men who treated her like a plaything, often times these men had other women in their lives and only called on my friend when they wanted sex with minimal drama.
The problem was as a young girl, she was violated in the worst way possible, raped by two men who she knew – well two different occassions but within a few months of each act, amounting to three times in total. I think this pretty much screwed up any self love she might have had for herself, especially since she’d been an 18 year old already struggling with her looks. And I don’t think she ever recovered.
But the problem with her and other women with self-esteem problems is that because they don’t love themselves they put themselves in situations that can be harmful – like having unprotected sex with men they barely know. That was the thing that worried me about my friend – she’d know to get herself tested but even if the men she was sleeping with didn’t want to get tested, she’d still have unprotected sex with them.
Her story isn’t unique at all and this is what bothers me. We focus a lot of our prevention campaigns around using condoms, getting tested and saying no to sex. But the reality is we need to tackle the fundamental issues of self love. It’s already a hard battle for women in my generation (not that i’m that old!), but what about teenage girls growing up in a world where someone as talented as Beyonce is half naked in all her videos? Or even the videos where men seem to be talking appreciatively (until you actually listen to the words) of the curvaceous, skimpy clad girl dropping it like it’s hot?
They are being groomed to be a sexual object to be here to provide sexual gratification to a man, who if he really likes her will ‘spend it all on her and make her bed rock’.
I know we hear people talking about self-respect, but how do we instill respect in women when the media is full of images that promote anything but respect for women – whether it’s self-respect or from men (that’s another blog post for another day)?
If women, young and older, loved themselves, had higher self-esteem and self-respect, they wouldn’t be putting themselves in situations where they are disrespected or put at risk because of wanting to bend to a man’s sexual wants.
I’m happy to say that my friend finally acknowledged that she suffers from seriously low self-love after spending a weekend with a man who treated her badly – but had lots of sex with her – and she’s now seeking help. I have to admit, she’s one of the lucky ones, considering her sexual network – she’s very lucky.

Bono has been championing the Red campaign for a few years now. Like most initiatives it has its critics and it has its supporters. I’m not sure where I sit on this one. On one hand it’s a great example of innovative financing – allowing consumers to contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS. But I’m not a fan of the message.
I get that HIV/AIDS is having devastating effects across Africa, but to have the tagline of Buy Red, Save Lives (in Africa)?
As an African I hate it – again I get that you’ve got to portray an extreme picture to pull on the heart-strings – and therefore the purse-strings – but for the millions of people who’ve never been to Africa, it only tells one story. And that story is that us poor, starving, disease ridden Africans can’t do anything for ourselves and always need the West to bail us out.
I can see how this story can help raise cash for Africa – and I’m not saying we don’t need it – but isn’t there a way we can do this so the world can see that Africa does do some things on its own too? And this is what should be supported?
And now Bono’s the mouthpiece for Africa? I know I should be happy that someone as important as Bono has made it his mission to do something for the world’s poor (in Africa), but I just hate that it also perpetuates this air of hoplessness of Africa. But maybe that’s Africa’s fault too.
In most place – bar Rwanda and Liberia and a handful of other countries – we need new leadership. Not the old guards who are from the independence days, but younger, people with fresh perspectives – we need our Obamas. Young Africans also need to take up the challenge, with social media sites there is no reason why the work and advancement they are doing can’t be communicated and spread.
For now, I hope that campaigns such as OneLove Kwasila – though paid for by the US government – but implemented by young Africans can be one of many examples of the not so futile situation in Africa.
Maybe I’m just cynical or patriotic to a fault. (Oh, I forgot to mention the ridiculous ad spend to support Red products as well – in 2007 alone it was $100 million and guess how much they raised? $18million. I’m sure that ratio is better now…) Ok maybe I’m just a little bit mad at my own foolishness of getting a Red credit card and despite the money spent on it, I’ve only contributed about £50 to the global fund – I should have just given them the money instead – hell, I should have donated to a charity in Africa directly!


One of a series of animations from the OneLove Kwasila campaign

People, especially in the health sector, claim that scare-mongering doesn’t work when trying to communicate prevention messages. I’m not so sure I agree with this. Time and time again the ad that people, certainly in the UK, remember regarding HIV is the Tombstone PSA. You watch it today and think it’s just plain ridiculous – the grim reaper killing people like it’s a bowling game! But something about it worked.
Then today, you read about the woman in Detroit who created the hoax video about how she had slept with 500 men and infected them all – people’s boyfriends and husbands, just to drive home the message that you could be the partner of one of these men. People called it in, fear of a public health scare. But the testing clinic in Detroit saw its numbers jump significantly after over 17,000 viewed the spot. Surely that’s done more for HIV than some other more pc campaigns have done?
I do think people respond to basic emotions and fear is one of them. Yes you have to be careful not to preach the HIV+ = Death message, but the reality is, unfortunately, that if you have HIV you are going to die. Having lost relatives and still have relatives afflicted with this virus, I hate to say that, but we’ve got to be realistic. This isn’t a nice virus we’re dealing with, when it’s bad, it’s bad.
I think you need to use different tactics/messages to reach different people and some people do respond to fear, we can’t get away from that.
Messaging is really hard to deal with, but I think I’d focus more on longer formats, like documentaries and films or drama series, because then you can focus on the complex nature and issues that surround the virus. Maybe there’s a way you can tell people that if they get HIV they will die (eventually) without telling that that they will die and putting the fear into them.