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By Nellie Peyton
DAKAR, July 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A popular MTV drama series that teaches young people about sexual health in Africa is expanding to showcase innovations in HIV prevention, the television network said on Wednesday.
The series MTV Shuga will show young people learning to test themselves for the HIV virus in the hope of persuading reluctant teens and young adults to learn their status and get help.
It will also create storylines that include information about HIV preventative drugs known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in three new seasons set in South Africa and Ivory Coast, the creators said in a news release.
MTV Shuga has explored sexual health issues for years and has a strong audience base on the continent, but it hopes to reach new viewers with its first expansion into Francophone West Africa and a strong focus on the latest technology.
AIDS is the leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds in Africa and rates of young people who know their HIV status are low, said the MTV Staying Alive Foundation and Geneva-based non-profit group Unitaid, which partnered for the show.
“Millions of people in Africa watch MTV Shuga. (It) gives us a terrific opportunity to reach young people who don’t have reliable health information and empower them to take charge of their health - including testing themselves for HIV,” said Lelio Marmora, executive director of Unitaid.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) will evaluate the show’s impact on the attitudes and behaviour of viewers over the next three seasons.
“I think it’s a really powerful medium. It’s better than another public health promotion campaign,” said LSHTM researcher Isolde Birdthistle.
“We do expect it will increase awareness of some of these new technologies,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from an International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam.
The new seasons will air starting in 2019 alongside a radio, print and social media campaign, said the MTV Staying Alive Foundation.
Past seasons have been set in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria. A 2017 World Bank study said preliminary results showed viewers did change sexual health behaviours as a result. (Reporting by Nellie Peyton, editing by Lyndsay Griffiths; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)