Sub-Saharan Africa: Public-Private Partnership Entertains as it Raises HIV/AIDS Awareness (February 2010)

A television series targeting teens and young adults supported by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is raising HIV/AIDS awareness across sub-Saharan Africa.

The three-part mini-series "Shuga," produced by MTV in partnership with PEPFAR and UNICEF, focuses on a group of friends exploring the complexities of love in Nairobi, Kenya. But unlike many other dramas targeting this audience, "Shuga" depicts characters in situations that force them to confront the risk of HIV infection and illustrates to viewers that a positive HIV test result is not a death sentence.

"It's fast, it's furious, it's cool - and that's exactly how we filmed it," said actress Lupita Nyong'o, who plays a lead role in "Shuga" as Ayira, a college student who finds herself torn between a boyfriend her own age and an older man.

The series shows its cast in settings and behavior patterns familiar to Kenyan youth - including sexual involvement with multiple partners and sexual exploration and alcohol abuse - and underscores that these situations make young people more vulnerable to HIV.

"This is really what we mean when we talk about the meaningful engagement of young people in issues that impact their own lives," said PEPFAR Senior HIV/ AIDS Prevention Advisor Tijuana A. James-Traore. "No other person or persons, I think, could have communicated the messages in the way these young people have done."

HIV/AIDS awareness is particularly crucial in sub-Saharan Africa, the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Last year, sixty percent of HIV infection among young people occurred in this region alone. And with young women in Eastern and Southern Africa particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, "Shuga" is both essential and powerful.

"We're not the silver bullet," said MTV International's Vice President for Social Responsibility, John Jackson. "We're not going to solve this problem. But we're a critical player in getting a certain section of our community to think, to have a conversation they might not have otherwise."

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