Young people in eastern and southern Africa, like many of their peers around the world, often receive conflicting and inaccurate information about sexuality from family members, religious and traditional leaders, peers, teachers, health care workers and the media. This can leave them unable to make informed decisions about how, when and with whom to have sex and how to protect themselves against HIV.
UNESCO with support from UNAIDS and SAfAIDS have launched a major regional series of radio and TV programmes to address this gap. The programmes are designed to deliver comprehensive sexuality education to young people, give them a forum in which to discuss sexual issues and help them to make informed choices, particularly in a region where HIV prevalence is high. In Africa AIDS-related illness is still the leading cause of death among adolescents.
According to Charity Banda, HIV/AIDS Coordinator Ministry of Education, Zambia, this move is hugely important.
“By facing puberty without being prepared, young people are left confused and unsupported. This ultimately makes them vulnerable to high-risk behaviours that increase their chances of contracting and spreading HIV. That’s why this new initiative is so timely. ”
The series was first launched in Zambia on 21 February 2015 and is set to be broadcast in a five other countries later this year. (Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Sudan, and Tanzania]. The Zambian series has 26 TV episodes and 13 radio episodes and includes a 15 minute live talk show every Saturday called The sexuality talk challenge.
The show is being aired on the largest and most wide-ranging TV and radio network in the country, the Zambia National Broadcasting Company, which reaches more than four million people every day on television alone. The programmes are being translated into several local languages and disseminated to both urban and rural areas across the country.
Guests on the show include young people, youth-led organisations, teachers, government officials and policy makers and civil society representatives. Topics discussed on air have touched on: love, sex and healthy relationships; self-esteem and understanding yourself and your rights as an adolescent; peer pressure; challenging misconceptions and making healthier decisions for the future. One episode has also been dedicated to improving communication between young people and the significant adults in their lives.
“Evidence has shown that teenagers who have discussed issues with their parents or guardians are more likely to make safer, smarter decisions about sex and their sexuality,” said Patricia Machawira, Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Advisor, HIV and Education at UNESCO. “This includes waiting longer to begin having sex, having fewer sexual partners, using contraception and having the confidence to say ‘no’ to doing anything they are not comfortable with,” she added.
The TV and radio series has already been sparking debate. The makers hope that by the time the programme finishes its run in Zambia at the end of June, discussions will have helped to empower young people to make informed choices for a better, healthier future.