4 March 2016

Africa: Can the Broadcasting World Do More to Help Children Fight HIV?

Sunday 6 March is International Children's Day of Broadcasting, when children across the world get the chance to broadcast on radio and television stations. With that in mind, what role can the broadcasting media play in tackling HIV among children?

Every year Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world, and children get the opportunity to broadcast to the nation. This is a very popular day for children, even rural Zimbabwe, where they get to visit broadcasting centres in the capital city. This gives them an opportunity to discuss current issues in their lives, which include rights, health, and education.

With children only getting one day a year to broadcast, I wanted to find out whether radio and television stations in Zimbabwe do enough to cover issues affecting children living with HIV during the other 364 days.

Radio coverage

There are a number of radio stations in Zimbabwe, including Radio Zimbabwe, Nehanda Radio and National FM. Currently there is only one television station, ZBC TV.

Ahead of International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa 2015, Nehanda Radio spoke about the history of new infections among young children since 2000. It spoke of the progress of 1.3 million new infections being averted because of the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV.

In 2013, Nehanda also covered organisations taking the lead in programming for young children living with HIV and released news on how the US was giving $95 million through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) towards children vulnerable to HIV. And following coverage on Nehanda Radio news, Africaid Zvandiri won an award for best practice in 2011 for its work with children living with HIV.

In 2015, Radio Zimbabwe broadcast a programme on challenges facing children living with HIV in coping with their treatment. Africaid Zvandiri was on Radio Zimbabwe, advocating against faith healing. The whole discussion was centred on children living with HIV and faith healing.

National FM runs a regular radio programme focusing on HIV, called 'Bvunzai Tete' meaning 'Ask Auntie' which is a very popular programme in rural areas. The programme covers reproductive health and HIV, however it rarely focuses on children living with HIV.

Television programmes

In 2008, ZBC TV began screening feature films about HIV. Nine films from nine countries were screened under the title Untold Stories. These films were about stories of HIV in Southern Africa.

One of the films was 'Ulendo Rose's Journey' from Zambia, which was a story about a young HIV-positive orphan in need of care and support and the choices faced by her extended family. The other themes of the other films were about issues facing adults living with HIV. Repeats are currently being shown on ZBC TV, but unfortunately not during prime time viewing. Furthermore, they are not up to date with the current issues around HIV and AIDS.

SAFAIDS launched a new television and radio programme called 'Positive Talk' in 2009, which is still running. This gives Zimbabweans a platform to discuss HIV and AIDS openly. One of the focus areas is around reducing stigma and HIV treatment, and it does give children an opportunity to raise their voices on HIV issues. It has managed so far to interview young people about their personal lives and growing up with HIV.

Soap storyline

A popular soap, 'Studio 263', ran on ZBC TV from 2002 to 2012 and addressed risk behaviors that can lead to HIV. Studio 263 followed the life of a young mother, called Tendai, who contracted HIV as a teenager. Zimbabwean viewers watched the struggles Tendai faced as a teen living with HIV and managing to give birth to an HIV negative baby.

From my own experience, this soap was groundbreaking in addressing misconceptions around HIV. The only problem was that, as the soap progressed over the years, it shifted its focus from HIV. Before it reached 2006, it had a different storyline. The soap is no longer on Zimbabwean screens.

Media must do more

In my view, a lot still needs to be done when it comes to getting the voices of children living with HIV heard in the broadcasting sector in Zimbabwe.

It is important that children living with HIV are represented well in the media, as HIV has a huge impact on their lives. This will help in fighting stigma and discrimination, improve the knowledge of children living with HIV of their rights and above all help avoid life threatening situations such as inadequate access to antiretroviral drug treatment.

It is not good enough to leave everything to International Children's Day of Broadcasting, since it only happens once a year. There are many topics to cover and it provides only a limited time to broadcast on all the different issues affecting children, including HIV.

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