PRESS CONFERENCE BY REPRESENTATIVES OF ‘LOVELIFE SOUTH AFRICA’
At a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, representatives of “loveLife South Africa” said the project worked because it was an HIV/AIDS prevention programme designed for young people by young people themselves.
Initiated by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a United States-based non-profit consultant to policy makers on health issues, loveLife is chaired by South Africa’s first lady Zanele Mbeki. It promotes healthy lifestyles for young people through the media. Its motto to “talk about it” was emblazoned on the
t-shirts of the young people testifying to its success.
Led by moderator Michael Sinclair, today’s speakers included Mandla-Eric Sibeko, a 21-year-old law student who is on the loveLife advisory board. Also present were three young people active in television and other media affairs. They were Michelle Bowes, a 17-year-old college student; Edwin Thabete, a 16-year-old high school student; and Nangasmo Kosa, a 14-year-old high school student. Judi Fortuin, loveLife’s national media director, spoke of the innovative media messages promoting HIV prevention among South Africa’s young people.
As a member of the loveLife’s board, Mr. Sibeko stressed the fact that loveLife South Africa worked because it was a youth-driven organization. Young people had given it unprecedented support, he said. As a result, more than 70 per cent of the young population identified with its images and messages, which really had South Africans talking.
Mr. Sinclair, as the moderator, described the loveLife South Africa rationale. He said it was a comprehensive programme with a five- to 10-year perspective that brought together 15-years’ worth of lessons in HIV prevention. loveLife aimed to stem the HIV/AIDS epidemic among young South Africans. At the current rate of infection among teenagers in South Africa, roughly half of those under fifteen would become infected within the next five years. About half, or 40 per cent, of the population was under fifteen at the moment, roughly about 12 million people. “About 6 million young South African lives are at stake”, Mr. Sinclair said.
Asked why the infection rate was so high among young people in South Africa, Ms. Fortuin said that previous programmes had failed to capture the attention of youths. Youths had felt alienated by prevention messages that seemed to preach at them from the adult perspective. By that lesson, loveLife had learned that the secret to promoting a healthy lifestyle among youths was to focus on young people’s dreams. loveLife could do that because it was based on young people talking to other young people.
Asked how loveLife attracted young people, several speakers addressed aspects of the positive message that the organization promoted. Ms. Kosa said that giving young people a model to follow was particularly effective. She described a series of television programmes in which 15 to 17-year olds discuss their problems with love and sex and help each other solve them. The effect, she said, is to convey the feeling that “if she can do it, I can do it”.
Ms. Fortuin said that young people were attracted to loveLife because the organization provided an opportunity for young people to “say it the way it is” without adult intervention. Some of the loveLife shows had been quite explicit but they had not been closed down because of some archaic laws that might exist. As a result, young people see themselves represented in the real world as they live it. At the same time, the positive image of those youths dealing with their problems together is a refreshing change. Showing youth involved in positive activities using the media is a direct confrontation of the negative youth stereotype the media conveys.
Ms. Bowes said loveLife gave youth the skills to communicate with parents and adults on issues that young people might not know how to bring up. Mr. Sinclair noted that loveLife provided help for parents as well. There was a help line for parents whose children were in trouble. Public service spots told parents how to cope with youths’ problems. That double approach worked very well, Mr. Sibeko said. “However parents may feel about AIDS and other problems, they don’t want their children to die so they get involved”, he said.
Asked about its success rate with rural youth, Mr. Sinclair pointed out that loveLife was only 18 months old. However, studies had shown that 70 per cent of the young population overall could identify the loveLife brand while 76 per cent of the rural youths could identify it. Part of the explanation for the great brand name recognition was the lower level of direct media competition, but at least part of the success came from the targeting of rural youths in the loveLife approach. Ms. Kosa said she was from a rural area and that loveLife’s out-reach to other youth groups was part of its success. She had come to the group through involvement in sports. Mr. Thabete said young people in South Africa aspired to brands. Instead of selling a product like Coca-Cola, however, loveLife was selling a lifestyle and a healthy way of living.
Since loveLife focused on prevention, what perspective did it have about those already infected? A correspondent asked. Mr. Sinclair said the group worked with 12- to 17-year-olds, the majority of whom needed preventive messages. The group was, however, helping to establish the infrastructure required for treatment measures such as delivery of an anti-retroviral programme. Ms. Fotuin stressed the focus of the group in working with the uncontaminated half of South Africa’s population.
A correspondent noted that South Africa’s HIV/AIDS infection rate was among the highest of all countries, yet its President at the moment was in Washington meeting with the United States President George Bush. Why was Mr. Mbeki not here at the special session?
Ms. Fortuin acknowledged the seeming discrepancy in priorities. However, she said that loveLife’s bluntness in addressing the HIV/AIDS problem was so radical that no other country but hers would allow and support it. “It’s one of those fundamental contradiction that South Africa is noted for”, she said.
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