A national campaign to encourage sexual fidelity in Uganda has achieved something few recent campaigns have ever done - got the country talking.
The nine-month-long "One Love" campaign is in the second of three phases, which uses television and radio ads that feature a young child lamenting his family's poverty as a result of his father's AIDS-related death from "eating a side dish" - a euphemism for having a sexual relationship outside marriage.
"This particular part of the campaign has been very controversial, especially our use of children - people seem uncomfortable with that, but they need to face what they are doing to their children, to their families," said Daudi Ochieng, head of communications at Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG), which is running the campaign with the government.
The intention of the second phase is to bring home the effects of infidelity, not just on health, but on the lives of the people they care for most. The first phase - which ended in February - introduced the public to sexual networks, using forum theatre in rural communities and billboards, TV ads and radio spots in towns urging people to "get off the sexual network".
According to Ochieng, prevention campaigns have failed to directly address married and cohabiting Ugandans, the most likely group to become HIV infected.
"The aim of the campaign is to increase serial monogamy among married couples; there was a gap in the messages for monogamous stable marriages and discordant couple relationships where condoms are at times are not used," he said. "Abstinence and condoms don't have practical promise for couples."
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Beyond the traditional routes of advertising, the campaign has also employed mobile-phone technology and the social networking site Facebook to engage with younger people in a higher socio-economic group.
"Facebook is one of the fastest growing mediums and UHMG had to target the groups here... the youth are so vulnerable to sugar daddies so we advised that they be targeted," said Patrick Oyulu, a media consultant contracted by UHMG to open and moderate the Facebook group. "Facebook is just one of the mediums - the plan is to progress to all internet-based social networks.
"The response has been overwhelming, with a high 'tune-in' of over 6,000 members in just three weeks, with interactions focused on their experiences, sharing solutions and headed to the main goal of walking the talk," he added. "Behavioural change isn't easy, but just the awareness is a plus; our objective is not to point fingers but to show care."
Topics under discussion by the Facebook group range from "How To Respond When Your Partner Does Not Want To Use A Condom", to members' admissions that "some things are easier said than done; we should admit that sex is sweet and humans are promiscuous".
One Love messages have also been sent to mobile-phone subscribers using text messages and e-mail. "The campaign has made good use of mixing the traditional with new media," said Simon Kaheru, director of business convergence for SMS media, which sent the messages. "On World AIDS Day , SMS Media sent the video by email to achieve more than one million views."
For many, the campaign has been a real eye-opener. "Actually, 100 percent that campaign has changed my thinking," said Jonathan Kurinda, an IT specialist. "After really understanding the whole network thing, one can only be left with one option, finding a partner and after testing together you remain faithful."
"The advert scares me to death. Whenever I watch it, I swear to myself not to have any side dish," said Vincent Kisakye. "It always gives me a lot to think about."
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However, others are not so sure it will change sexual behaviour. "There is no impact. Have you checked out the Kampala streets and suburbs by night and seen the amount of sex on sale or even the university?" asked David Mubiru, who works at a hotel in the capital. "People know what to do but are refusing to heed the advice given."
According to UHMG, the campaign has been effective, at least in informing people of the risks posed by infidelity; their research shows that awareness has grown from 10 percent before the campaign to 53 percent so far.
"We run these campaigns appealing for behaviour change, but at the end of the day, it is a personal issue," James Kigozi, communications officer for the Uganda AIDS Commission, told IRIN/PlusNews. "These campaigns are good because they give out information but the decision to change remains personal."
The third phase of the campaign will focus on reducing the HIV risk by making the most of their current relationships or using a condom in every risky sexual encounter.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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