A storied look at HIV/AIDS in Africa

At a recent Emory global health seminar series, Kate Winskell showed how fiction penned by young Africans can help inform the response to HIV and AIDS. Since 1997, more than 145,000 young Africans have participated in scriptwriting contests as part of Scenarios from Africa HIV communication process.

The resulting archive of stories is a unique source of cross-cultural and longitudinal data on social representations of HIV and AIDS. The archive now spans 47 countries and a critical 12-year period in the history of the epidemic. Winskell’s presentation analyzed the stories that were part of the 2005 Scenarios contest. Six African countries were represented.

The seed for Scenarios was planted more than a decade ago–before the rise of the Internet—when Winskell, a public health educator, and her husband, Daniel Enger, were searching for innovative ways to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. The old ways of trying to stop the spread of the disease, focusing only on medical aspects of the epidemic or relying on educational materials that were not culturally adapted, were clearly limited.

Kate Winskell, PhD

Instead, Winskell, assistant professor, Emory’s Hubert Department of Global Health, and Enger launched a new kind of HIV/AIDS communication program along with colleagues. Known as Scenarios from Africa, the program involves a series of short films about HIV/AIDS written solely by young Africans. Scenarios began in three French-speaking, West African countries: Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso. The program has since expanded to reach almost every country in sub-Saharan Africa, says Winskell.

In 2007 the Emory Global Health Institute provided funding for the Community Partners Leadership Fellows Program.

“Working with hundreds of community organizations in Africa, we hold contests inviting young people to come up with ideas for short films to educate their communities about HIV/AIDS,” says Winskell. “The winning ideas, which are selected by juries of young people, people living with HIV and other HIV specialists, and communication professionals, are then transformed into short fiction films by top African directors.”

Winskell cautions that it can be misleading to focus only on the audio-visual component of the project. “The program is so much more than that,” she says. “It’s a very rich process. It’s about community development, about empowering young people to address the epidemic on their own terms, and about local organizations having an opportunity to learn from one another and learn from the young people they’re serving.”

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