SUDAN: The art of HIV education in the south

Monday, April 21, 2008
In a tiny recording studio in the southern Sudanese capital, Juba, Patrick Taban's phone rings off the hook, but he pays it no attention - he's too wrapped up in his preparations for a big production later that evening.

Taban heads The Heavens, a drama and musical group of 14 members whose performances rotate largely around church music and social issues, including HIV/AIDS.

The Heavens use theatre and musical comedy to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS, taking the message directly to local pubs and clubs.

"We are supporting a lot of drama, both live and on radio," said Sister Cecilia Sierra Salcido, who manages Sudan Catholic Radio, which supports the theatre productions. "It's the closest we can get to the people."

"In a country where many people are illiterate, cultural events are much more effective in advocating for social change than any UN report or conference," said Caroline Arnulf, advisor to the local government recovery programme at the United Nations Development Programme in Juba. Southern Sudan has one of the world's lowest literacy rates, with just 24 percent of the population able to read and write, according to the UN Population Fund.

During the three years since Southern Sudan emerged from a 21-year war with the north, talk has dominated the AIDS awareness messages. "Most people think that the only way to make people aware is through workshops," Taban said.

More recently, however, theatre and music have become more popular as ways to entertain and pass on the HIV message. The Heavens produced the theme song for World AIDS Day 2006, organised by the UN Children's Fund and the South Sudan AIDS Commission, and during celebrations to mark International Women's Day in March, they staged two hours of theatre on the issues of HIV/AIDS and bride-price.

"Art can do a lot for development and I believe it should be used more often, especially with the youth who are very responsive to that kind of events," Arnulf said.

Southern Sudan's HIV/AIDS programmes have gotten off to a slow start, mainly due to poor funding, but a roadmap for HIV prevention, treatment and care was announced in 2007.

Although the official national HIV prevalence of Sudan stands at 2.6 percent, many areas of the south are thought to have significantly higher levels.

Source: PlusNews