In this week’s reading, “Why Radio Matters,” Dr. Mary Myers highlights a list of reasons and examples why radio is “the most widespread mass-medium for the developing world.” One of these reasons was that radio has the potential to educate and entertain its listeners. Myers then went on to fuse these two functions into one example- that of the Tanzanian radio soap opera titled “Pilika Pilika,” which educates its listeners on myriad health issues through entertaining plot lines. Earlier today, when writing our assigned analysis and discussion questions based on the readings, I posed the question, “Do you believe that this is actually effective in educating people on important health measures?” I then went on to do a little research of my own, which is how I discovered “Shuga-Love, Sex, Money”–a 12-episode radio drama that tells the stories of a group of four young fictional characters aged 15-24, their choices, dreams, friendships, challenges, and triumphs in a world where HIV and AIDS are an ever-present threat.
Launched in June of 2012, Shuga is a joint initiative of MTV, UNICEF, and the HIV Free Generation (HFG) Partnership. Not only is the series produced in French, English, and Swahili, but it is also distributed at no cost to a wide range of broadcasters. Some of the themes and topics covered through the plot of the series are: HIV counseling and testing, condom use in stable relationships, positive prevention, gender inequality and sexual violence, transactional sex, alcohol abuse, and the role of multiple concurrent partnerships in driving the HIV epidemic. Another unique aspect of the Shuga series that has undoubtedly lent it more success is that it was written and produced by 30 young people from Cameroon, DR Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Lesotho and South Africa. These young Africans from diverse backgrounds all came together for training in a special workshop hosted by Question Media Group with support from MTV and UNICEF in order to create the drama that informs people just like them.
Now to my question as to whether or not this means of delivering vital health advice through entertainment radio is actually successful in improving health outcomes. According to research conducted by Johns Hopkins University/Centre for Communications Programs in Kenya following the airing of Shuga, the data reported increased intentions for HIV testing coupled with decreased intentions for multiple sex partners; improved attitudes towards people living with HIV and AIDS, and increased usage of accessible health and social services among youth who had watched the series. Being a radio DJ myself at the campus station, WTUL, I know what it is like to read obligatory Public Service Announcements each week. The information is terribly mundane, and most of the time, I am certain my listeners tune out during these mandated announcements. Now having learned about these examples of innovative use of airtime to educate the public, I will question these PSAs even more. Unfortunately, I do not think this coupling of education and entertainment, particularly through radio, would be very successful in the U.S. But programs like “Pilika Pilika” and “Shuga- Love, Sex, Money” show promise for the future of education and empowerment through radio in the developing world.