Making fun of HIV: Welcome to the Scenarios from Africa

General Assembly of Diseases: In the city of Contaminobo, assorted germs in an emergency session. Tuberculosis, Polio, Hepatitis and others are all angry and afraid because their favourite target – humans – are fighting back. Enter ‘His Royal Heinous, Overlord AIDS’. Hope at last! When he attacks the immune system of humans, other germs can still have a chance…The humans are so careless, that it’s easy for AIDS to quickly spread from one to many. But wait a minute – somebody has been listening into all their talk. Which means the secret of defending humans from HIV and his cronies is out.

Iron Will: Moussah is a young man with a healthy, or bubbling, interest in girls. His male friends advise him to be play it safe — carefree sex can easily expose him to HIV, for which there is no cure. They talk about condoms, and another strategy that is an alternative to using the rubber latex. But Moussah doesn’t quite understand the expression ‘iron will’. He interprets it differently, and gets custom made iron underpants made — much to the amusement of his friends, who remind him the most important sex organ is…the brain!

Just Once: A man returns from the field and feels like making love to his wife. She is living with HIV and insists that he uses a condom — but they’ve run out of stocks. So he cycles far and wide in search of condoms – where is a rubber when you need one? Finally he succeeds and rushes home, only to find that his wife did have one last, unused condom with her. So why didn’t you tell me, he asks in exasperation. Her answer is revealing….

Intrigued? There’s a lot more where they came from.

These three stories are part of Scenarios from Africa — a highly successful and popular pan-African initiative to use moving images to get young people talking and acting on HIV/AIDS. The decade-long project has been carried out with and for young people, with community mobilisation, education and media elements.

Integral to this communication effort are television drama vignettes about different scenarios involving HIV in everyday life.

Some are very funny while others are very moving. They cover many dimensions of the HIV epidemic, from preventing the virus spreading to taking care of persons living with HIV. Underlying themes include safe sex, removing social stigma from the epidemic and dispelling misconceptions about how HIV spreads or does not spread.

The project was started in 1997 and is coordinated by the non-profit Global Dialogues Trust. It gave African children and young adults an exciting opportunity to educate themselves and others about HIV/AIDS by inviting them to participate with internationally acclaimed directors in the production of these short films.

The films are based on ideas thought up by young people in a series of contests. So far, over 105,000 young people from 37 African countries have taken part in these contests. Over 1,000 local and international partner organisations have been involved in organising the contests and selecting the winning ideas.

The films range in duration from just under 2 minutes to almost 15 minutes. They were produced by top fiction film-makers and animation specialists in Africa.

All stories use African actors, locations and situations – and employ different story telling tactics.

Scenarios from Africa is a multi-media communication project that has been widely acclaimed by practitioners, activists and scholars worldwide. The films are supported by a user’s guide and online discussion points that help teachers, trainers and activists to make the best use of these stories in their work.

The films are all distributed on a non-commercial basis across Africa and beyond, for broadcast and narrowcast use. The Scenarios films have been broadcast on locally-based television stations in almost every country in sub-Saharan Africa. The films are also collected on compilation DVDs and video cassettes for use by organisations and schools. Some 60,000 copies of the films (DVDs and video cassettes) of the films have been distributed to date.

The films are now available in a wide and growing range of African and European languages, and are reaching tens of millions of people.

Says Daniel Enger of the Global Dialogues Trust: “Although the films were originally produced for the sub-Saharan African cultural context, we have been pleased to learn over the years that the films have proven useful as awareness-raising tools in many countries of the Asia Pacific area. Indeed, most of the HIV-related topics raised in the Scenarios from Africa collections have universal relevance, making the films useful discussion starters across the globe.”

TVE Asia Pacific has recently taken on the task of distributing all Scenarios films across the Asia Pacific region. As with all other films in its catalogue, TVEAP will distribute Scenarios on a non-exclusive, non-commercial basis to broadcast, civil society and educational. We have been promoting the Scenarios films since we screened them to packed houses during the 2004 AIDS Film Festival in Bangkok

Meanwhile, the 5th Scenarios contest will be held from 1 December 2007 to 15 March 2008. Please contact for more information.

Watch Scenarios films on the official website (RealPlayer required)

Scenarios from Africa now available from TVE Asia Pacific

All images used in this post are courtesy Global Dialogues Trust.

Read my other blog posts on HIV:
HIV: Stigma a bigger killer than the virus?
Three Amigos: Funny condoms with a serious mission
Beware of Vatican condoms!
50? In South African terms, you’re probably dead!
Ratomate’s best cup of tea
A girl named Nan-nan

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

2 thoughts on “Making fun of HIV: Welcome to the Scenarios from Africa”

  1. Looking at your headline, I first thought this was a sick joke – HIV is a serious issue, and people living with HIV wouldn’t want it to be taken lightly. But humour is a great communication strategy. We can get across very serious messages through fun and laughter. I have seen most of the Scenarios from Africa stories and can confirm that they are great stories with none of the preachy, boring stuff that health communicators usually dish out to us when talking about HIV. We need more of these if we are to win the battle against the virus….a bit less of the boffins (a.k.a. experts) talking down to us.

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