World AIDS Day is December 1st

November 30, 2009 • News

Soap Operas – A New Front in HIV/AIDS Prevention

Love…Sex…Romance…Betrayal… are just a few of the key elements that have made Soap Operas one of the most riveting and captivating entertainment formats around the world.

But what do soap operas have to do with HIV/AIDS?

The innovative, international organization, Population Media Center (PMC) has a unique method for producing soap operas with characters that evolve into positive role models for the audience to bring about changes in behavior in order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and address other important social and health issues.

PMC has adapted and replicated its strategy in 24 countries around the world, and has been able to demonstrate measurable impact. PMC hires only local writers, producers, and actors to develop these highly entertaining and relevant dramas. The programs are broadcast in the local language on the most popular channels during primetime, in order to reach the largest possible audience. Through the characters’ trials and tribulations the audience observes the benefits and risks of certain behaviors, such as the importance of practicing safe sex, the risk of having multiple partners and not using protection, how to build healthy relationships with those living with HIV and reduce the stigma around being HIV positive, and encouraging audience members to get tested.

Rather than dryly lecturing the citizens of a country on how to behave, PMC engages large audiences with highly dramatic stories based on the lives of people in the target audience. The results are impressive.
For instance, PMC produced and broadcast the radio drama, Yeken Kignit (“Looking Over One’s Daily Life”), which aired from 2002-2004 in Ethiopia. The show was extremely popular, with 47% of all men in the country listening along 45% of the women.

Nearly half of the country’s population, 40 million people tuned in on a weekly basis. And nationwide surveys conducted after the show aired, revealed that male listeners got tested for HIV at four times the rate of non-listeners, and female listeners got tested at three times the rate of non-listeners. During this time there was also a 157% increase in demand for contraceptives. Many people reported having “fallen in love” with Anguach, a strong female-lead character, and followed her example of getting tested for HIV.

In fact, the show was so successful, that the Ethiopian government provided funding for Yeken Kignit to be rebroadcast throughout the southern region of Ethiopia beginning this year.

In the global battle to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, PMC is an important and growing leader.

Would you like to interview Bill Ryerson, President of Population Media Center or Katie Elmore, PMC’s Director of Communications, about PMC’s innovative, unique and very effective contributions to the global effort to beat HIV/AIDS, the future of health interventions and the role entertainment-education has to play in contemporary public education?

• World AIDS Day is December 1, and 2009 is the 21st anniversary of its founding.
• Since 1981 at least 25 million people have died from HIV/AIDS.
• In 2007 alone, over 2 million people died from HIV/AIDS and 2.5 million became newly infected.
• HIV/AIDS is entirely preventable — if people have the knowledge and will to practice safe sex.
• Population Media Center was founded in 1998 by Bill Ryerson, who has 37 years experience in the field
of reproductive health, including 20 years of experience in behavior change.
• Bill Ryerson won the 2006 Nafis Sadik Prize for Courage from the Rotarian Action Group on Population
and Development.
• Population Media Center is based in Shelburne VT and has had programs in 24 different nations across 4
separate continents.
• The protection of human rights especially the rights of women, which PMC emphasizes in all its
programming, is fundamental to combating the global HIV and AIDS epidemic.

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