The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the MTV Staying Alive Foundation (MTV SAF) and global health initiative Unitaid have announced a three-year partnership to introduce storylines on HIV innovation, including HIV self-testing and preventive drugs (PrEP) into the award-winning drama series MTV Shuga.

MTV Shuga is designed to help millions of young viewers in French and English speaking Africa protect themselves from HIV.

The campaign will span Southern Africa and Western francophone Africa and deliver three new TV series of MTV Shuga which fuses hard-hitting storylines with sexual health messages to influence viewers’ attitudes and behaviour.

The “edutainment” campaign also features: a radio drama that expands on MTV Shuga storylines; print, digital and social media activity; and peer education programmes that challenge stigma and obstacles to young people’s sexual health.

AIDS remains the leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds in Africa, bolstering the case for innovations and investments that place a high priority on this age group.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing its largest ever generation of adolescents, and many remain at high risk of HIV while incidence rates decline in other age groups. Exciting new HIV prevention tools must be made known and available to adolescents and young adults, to help drive down new infections,” said Principle Investigator at LSHTM, Isolde Birdthistle.

“Our research will involve looking at whether the campaign increases awareness and demand among young people for innovative, effective tools for HIV prevention, especially HIV self-testing and PrEP. We will also measure whether MTV Shuga can boost the number of young people who know their own HIV status, which really is vital,” continued Birdthistle.

“Our analysis will be critical in understanding how multimedia campaigns can work to both improve adolescent health and deliver HIV prevention messages,” added Principle Investigator at LSHTM, Professor Simon Cousens.

“Previous research has shown that education alone is not enough to tackle HIV. Delivering a campaign which combines both education and entertainment to give positive messages on prevention and self-testing could have the potential to make a real difference in protecting young people from HIV infection,” continued Cousens.

The new MTV Shuga campaigns will be deployed in South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire between 2018 and 2020. Preliminary work for both countries begins this year, with the first television series due to broadcast in the first half of 2019 in South Africa, followed by two seasons in Côte d’Ivoire.

“The need to focus on the sexual health of young people is more important today than ever before. With the advent of developments like HIVST and PrEP, we have a unique opportunity to effect real change in young people’s lives,” said Executive Director of the MTV SAF and Executive Producer of MTV Shuga, Georgia Arnold.

“Continuing a multi-platform approach for MTV Shuga helps us keep reaching youth in every aspect of their lives and encourage an on-going dialogue in the global fight against HIV,” concluded Arnold.

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