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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.

*I refer to programme managers, meaning public health professionals

Sometimes I feel stuck in the middle. I sort of fell into what I do because I felt we (young people, my sisters etc) could make a difference in the lives of other young people – specifically young women who were getting pregnant and kicked out of school – that archaic rule that said pregnant girls could not stay in school (despite only having sex ed in the 12th grade!). So my sisters and I coupled that desire to help educate our peers with our passion for writing – or perhaps we’d watched too much Press Gang! – and formed Youth Media, soon followed up by our first publication Trendsetters.

Soon after I learnt about the enter-educate approach – using entertainment to educate your audience. It makes sense – who doesn’t love watching an entertaining programme, or reading an interesting magazine, if you can use those channels to educate people then even better. And when you think about it, they’ve been doing this for years! I learnt a lot of what I know from TV! Law and Order has taught me loads about the legal system (even if not all of it is relevant to Zambia, but you’d be surprised how much is).

Trendsetters was set up in that way. It was a magazine that appealed to young people, dealt with their issues, but also weaved in sexual and reproductive health messages into the different articles. But it wasn’t that simple, there were other factors that made young people make the risky decisions they were making. Yes education was a large part of it, but like all people, young people take many emotional, physical, spiritual and other considerations when making a decision. A huge part that we found played a roll in the harmful decisions young people made was the lack of self-esteem. The mission of Trendsetters became to empower young people to become responsible citizens that made healthy decisions in all aspects of their life.

Trendsetters became a definitive guide for being a young person in Zambia. Since we stopped publishing it (for reasons not worth mentioning here), there has been no publication that has met the needs of young people.

I eventually moved on to work for MTV – creating TV programmes to reach young people globally with HIV prevention messages. In my eight years there we produced a TV film, a couple of drama series, talk shows, documentaries, forums etc.

It was amazing to work with some of the most creative and talented people in the world. I loved every minute of it and learnt so much from them. But what frustrated me, and to some extent the creatives as well, was the clients thinking they were the creatives and telling the producers, directors, writers etc how to do their jobs.

Funnily enough, it never happened the other way. The creatives were pretty grounded with knowing they knew what they knew but were in no way experts at developing an HIV project for young people in rural towns (as an example). I soon realised that I needed to take the middleman role – understanding both sides of the coin – unfortunately it did mean I had to sacrifice what I thought was my passion and instead manage relationships and expectations.

It does get a bit frustrating. On one hand, I do understand why the HIV programme managers wanted to ensure that all the messages were delivered correctly, there has been enough examples of mass media gone wrong. But it also kind of disrespects the creatives. They need to be left alone to do their craft and what they’re good at – creating TV programs to appeal to audiences and keep them engaged and tuned in regularly.

If you put too much of the social good stuff to a script and lose the drama, no one wants to watch a pro-social drama series. But give me ER, Law and Order, Girlfriends, Grey’s Anatomy – all popular shows that have managed to weave in social health messages. It’s about finding the balance. What I’ve seen that works is creating the stories first and then slotting in the sexual health messages. Because let’s face it, sexual health is very much a part of our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not.

There is a place for the SRH programme managers and that’s as consultants. But they are not yet producers, scriptwriters or directors, so should give those experts the opportunity to do what they do, after all, they wouldn’t like it if someone less qualified that them told them what to do would they?

Until then the middlemen like myself will continue to exist, people who understand both sides of the table and ensure everyone gets what they need without frustrating the other. Or there is another way.

At Media 365 we have a process we follow to try to avoid these problems – called Blueprint 365. This is the process we follow to ensure that we know exactly what the clients what before we go and produce anything and based on what the clients tell us – so even as clients, they really need to know what they’re trying to achieve – and we develop it the best way we know how. This is why I believe in starting with the end in mind. What is it that you’re trying to do? You keep asking yourself this question at every stage of the project or programme development to make sure it’s all tying in to the end goal. The inception report that we develop outlines exactly what the key messages are, and what the process is for developing storylines, characters etc. Once these processes are signed off, we can go ahead and create the programme, giving the clients milestone moments for approval – but they also know they only have a certain number of times for feedback or they are charged for additional hours and of course we no longer guarantee the deadline will be met. The reality is that when you don’t plan properly, it is easy to change the goalposts and ultimately someone has to pay for that.

Another organisation that I admire and who definitely keeps the creatives and the programme managers separate is Hollywood Health and Society. They get all the information they need from the programme managers, or might even get in the programme managers to debrief the script writers of some of Hollywood’s biggest shows – like the ones I mentioned above – once the brief is over, the scriptwriters do their thing. The result of the debrief is only seen when the show airs. Of course this is slightly different because the development agency puts no money into the production of the show, when they are paying the production costs they do want to ensure it delivers on all the messages they paid for. But if you remember what I said in the beginning, it’s not that simple. The issues as well as humans, are much more complex than what can be told in a 44 minute programme.

Seeing the holistic picture is much more important. There is only so much a TV show is going to do, and then what? This is really where the programme managers expertise should be focused on. How do we ensure that the information learned from the TV show translates into action? What are the services to support this? If we’re telling people to get tested, where can they get tested? Are the service providers aware that there is a campaign that will push them to get tested? Is there a mechanism for the audience to find more information etc. These are not questions or issues that the scriptwriter or producer will concern themselves with – they are focussed on creating an compelling story that will make the audience think and hopefully reconsider preconceived notions. But programme managers should be thinking about these additional elements if they want their programme to be successful – and not whether the adults (who aren’t even the target audience) think that a love scene is too sexy and if a character could give a (unnatural) public service announcement in their script!

There is a way programme managers and creatives can work together in harmony and that’s by respecting each others roles and working together on the big picture. I look forward to hopefully seeing this work in 2012!

Today the world commemorates World AIDS Day, as we remember the people we have lost to this epidemic, and reflect and take in lessons learnt to figure out where we go to from here to get to zero – zero new infections, zero deaths as a result of AIDS.

The biggest prevention message is ‘use a condom’, and it has been since the beginning of the epidemic – bar a few years when the US pushed the abstinence message big time. But 30 years later, that message still isn’t really being picked up on, many people are still not wearing condoms.

I was having a conversation with my significant other, and one of my girlfriends (not at the same time), when I was analyzing why people don’t like to use condoms despite knowing the dangers of unprotected sex. There are probably many reasons why people don’t use condoms, but what I was interested in was the emotional side of it. When you’re in a relationship you don’t want to use condoms because one of the condom messages that does stick in our minds is that condoms can prevent diseases.

So when you’re in a relationship, you wonder if you’re using condoms does that mean that you’re not special? Does the person not trust you? Or what is he/she hiding that they insist on condom use?

This is obviously the emotional side of your brain asking these questions because the rational one knows that actually, it’s a really responsible thing to do. Yeah you can get tested, but as I’ve seen in my last few months in Zambia, it’s easy to have other relationships outside of your main relationship and that’s acceptable. So you may be chilling thinking you’re all good and your man or woman only ‘eats’ at home, not knowing, or not wanting to believe that there is a side dish out there.

Recently I heard about a couple who were both cheating, yet when the wife found out her husband was in a long-term relationship with someone else, she was outraged saying how she needed to take an HIV test. I didn’t want to point out that she too had been playing outside the marital bed, and in fact almost thought she was pregnant – meaning she was not using condoms, so really she had put her husband at as much risk as he’d put her at.

I think when people are doing these prevention messages they really need to think about the audience and how they are receiving those messages. The condom message as is is fine for casual sex, or a regular sex partner, but when you’re in a steady relationship, it needs to address the emotional side of using a condom too.

I feel we need to turn condoms from being a ‘dirty’ thing to something that isn’t shrouded in distrust but to something that gives you peace of mind, which equals more pleasurable sex. Maybe messages should focus on your partner’s other sexual partners, we’ve all dated partners who have dated questionable people, if you think you are indirectly sleeping with that person when you don’t use a condom, maybe it’ll make you think twice about not using one!

It does mean that other than making generic ads on condom use, you have to really segment your audience and address their emotional, financial, and physical needs. It does mean that people have to invest more dollars into mass media prevention campaigns. But isn’t that how you will achieve impact at scale? It makes me laugh how so many development agencies want to be ‘like the cool brands’ and launch a ‘brand’ or copy a technique used by popular brands, but ignore the fact that these so-called cool brands spend a hell of a lot of money on their R&D and more importantly, their advertising campaigns. If an HIV prevention campaign had half the advertising budget of say Apple of Coca Cola and left it to the experienced ad agencies to develop the campaign for them (that’s another pet gripe, for another blog post), I’m sure they would get some traction. But thinking that you can run a mass media campaign for a year to reach millions of people and throw less than even a $100k is a bit of a joke if you ask me. But now I’m digressing to my other blog post (for another time).

Another message that I think has not helped is the get tested message, certainly in Zambia. I sat through a message design meeting – if that’s the right word – for one of our clients as they asked us to develop a spot for them that would get people to go for an HIV test. I innocently asked, ‘why should people get tested?’ – It’s common in putting across a message to communicate the benefits of the action you want people to take. However, I was met with a look of disbelief, like what’d I’d said was either sacrilegious or the stupidest thing they’d ever heard. To be their answer was what was shocking, ‘because research shows that if you go on treatment early you can have a longer life’ or something like that – basically, they meant that because when you tested positive you could access treatment and care. Which is obviously great and useful information to know, but if someone told me that if I was personally asking why I should go to get tested, then I’d immediately assume that to take a test means finding out you’re HIV positive.

Unfortunately that is how the message has been communicated for too long. People forget that there are more people who are not infected than they are infected. Knowing your status should be about taking control of your life.

That’s another interesting debate as my brother, and creative director at Media 365, says that that is also a problem message in itself because a lot of people in Zambia don’t actually believe they can take control of their life. Again that’s another blog post, I won’t digress.

My point is we need to do the remix on some of these messages, or at least upgrade them to reflect the realities on the ground, understand how they are perceived and look at people’s motivating factors to adopt these safe behaviours and then flood the market with them. These are my thoughts today when we ask, why 30 years after the first case of HIV, still an overwhelming 2.7million people were newly infected in 2010.

The last week has been really exciting for me because we’ve been working on a new exciting project. It brought up old memories of working on Trendsetters, and those good, old days! But it also brought up discussions about the state of young people in Zambia today. Something I see in my own nieces and nephews that worries me.

I remember when I was a young person (well, obviously I mean when I was younger) living in Lusaka, I saw things around me that moved me. Things that I thought weren’t fair or right and that I could do something about it. I remember when we marched for peace – there was a handful of us, maybe 20 odd people, if that, but we marched anyway, can’t remember the circumstances but I remember marching to what is now Memorial Park, with our little banner and our blue ribbons for peace!

Soon after, at the young age of 17, my sisters and I (through our then non-governmental organisation Youth Media), with some other people (slightly older) started Zambia’s first magazine for young people – Trendsetters. We dubbed Trendsetters as the definitive guide for being young in Zambia. The premise of the magazine was to address the issues that was critical for the development of us young people, to be healthy, responsible and contribute to the development of our nation. The core theme was on HIV and AIDS, as the country, indeed the whole continent, at the time was ‘burning’ as it were, with the spread of HIV, the silence around it and the high levels of infections, and little or no treatment available for those infected.

Six month after it was launched it won an award from the Population Council, for Best Team Reporting Effort – an award previously won by CNN. Chuffed we were indeed. Trendsetters went on to have spin off products such as Trendsetters School, for a younger in-school audience, and Trendsetters Radio. Youth Media also launched another initiative called Children’s Press Bureau – an initiative that trained children to be journalists and got them working alongside trained journalists in the national media, it was an adaptation of an initiative already being done by Save the Children. After 10 years in existence Youth Media shut down – there are rumours abound about what happened, and soon we shall reveal the truth but until then…

Five siblings in total worked at Youth Media at one time or another. I guess our love of media, behaviour change, social change (if you will), was firmly cemented and that’s how four of us went on to set up Media 365.

And now I look around at the young people I know, including my nieces and nephews, and not only do they not really care about what is going on around them, but they all aspire to be models, actors, rappers, or something else that they think will get them rich quick. When will someone tell kids that those successful people in the entertainment industry really are the minority?

At the same time, I wouldn’t mind them wanting to be all this and more, if I thought they were truly passionate about it. But they never read – it’s escaped my nephew that one thing that stands out about the great rappers is their skills with words – they don’t watch classics, my other niece thinks watching Nollywood will hone her craft. Sigh. The other day my other niece decided she wanted to be a gospel rapper, ‘oh like Kirk Franklin?’ I questioned her. Her response, ‘Who?’. Oh my.

We live on a farm, off a long dusty road, and the current temperature in Lusaka is about 37 degrees, while the kids were on holiday, I tried to spark an entrepenuerial spirit in them – well they weren’t reading so I figured they could do a side hustle. I suggested they make flavoured ice lollies to sell to people on the road. Nope, they weren’t having it, the profit margins were too small they said.

Two of my nephews are amazingly talented when it comes to drawing, so I suggested they create the label for my parent’s (their grandparents) diary business. Nope, they can’t be arsed to do that either.

After dinner, dad has recently being sharing early independence day stories – this is really stuff that insiders know, dad served in some pretty high positions during those days – you can’t get the kids to get away from the table any faster. They’d rather watch the latest videos on MTV.

I use my family as an example, but I tend to find a lot of young people here to be like that. It’s amazing that it was young people that forced a change of government in Zambia – hmmm wonder if the song Donchi Kubeba really was the driving force. Kids just wanted to party!

Ok, it was probably more my generation of young people than the 18-25 (I think I have the generation definition right) who led that ‘revolution’ but those 23 and under, sheesh! I don’t know. So I really hope this new project we’re working on will help to inspire these kids and show them that they can be anything they want to be but it requires hardwork and education – not necessarily the formal kind. I’m really excited about it and give the Creative Director – my brother – a tight timeline to deliver on! Well time waits for no man!

In the meantime, do Like the Trendsetters page on facebook. Thank you! Oh yeah and my title of this post is slightly misleading isn’t it?

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.

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.