Zambian Multimedia HIV Prevention Campaign Designed by Youths Says Abstinence is ‘Cool,’ Promotes Condom Use
A youth-oriented, USAID-funded HIV/AIDS awareness campaign is succeeding in delaying the initiation of sexual activity among teenagers and reducing the number of sexual partners in Zambia, the Christian Science Monitor reports. HEART -- Helping Each other Act Responsibly Together -- is a joint effort of USAID and the Zambian government that seeks to reduce HIV/AIDS prevalence, especially among young people, in the southern African nation. About 20% of Zambians are HIV-positive, with the largest number of cases being reported among people between the ages of 20 and 40, the Monitor reports. The program, which places a "strong" emphasis on abstinence but also promotes consistent condom use, is designed by young people and uses television commercials, radio ads, music and posters to portray the message that abstinence is "ile che," or "cool." Program Director Holo Hachonda said, "Most of the youths here, including me, have sex for the first time because of peer pressure. What we're trying to do is reinforce the message that it's okay to be abstinent." He added, "The idea is to encourage youths to adopt more healthy sexual behaviors." The $95,000 campaign has been well-received by Zambian young people; more than half of youths recently surveyed said they had seen the ads, and a "substantial" number said that they had discussed the ads with peers or family members or that the ads had influenced their sexual decision making. The Monitor reports that the ads appear to be helping change teens' sexual behavior, contributing to the stabilization of the country's rate of new HIV infections.
While many of Zambia's church leaders and politicians have praised HEART's abstinence message, some in the "largely Christian" nation have taken issue with its condom messages. One television ad, which featured two teenage girls telling a friend to tell her boyfriend, "No condom, no sex," drew fire from church leaders and then-President Frederick Chiluba. The ad was pulled off the air as a result of the controversy (Itano, Christian Science Monitor, 8/1).