Botswana recently celebrated a remarkable milestone in its fight against HIV and AIDS. Botswana has long been a leader in these efforts, and on Friday, June 15, 2012, they marked their inaugural "TeachAIDS Day": a call to action to recommit themselves and promote HIV education amongst its citizens.
Here's how it started. A few years ago, Botswana's Ministry of Education reached out to TeachAIDS, which had recently spun out of Stanford University as a nonprofit, to tackle the issue of "HIV fatigue". More than one-fifth of adults in Botswana are HIV positive, and their citizens had grown tired of the repetitive HIV messaging through billboards, television commercials, and pamphlets. Research also demonstrated that the fragmented messaging was ineffective at providing a fundamental understanding of the basics of HIV transmission.
The new initiative -- to provide more engaging and also more effective HIV education --brought together key players like UNICEF and Stepping Stones International, along with Barclays, Yahoo!, and others. The resulting localized and culturally-appropriate TeachAIDS software featured the voices of national celebrities Scar, Zeus, Tref, and Jazzelle. Both male and female versions of the research-based, interactive software were produced in English and Setswana, the country's official languages. The use of software allowed everyone in the country, especially those who were not well-versed in HIV-related issues, to provide consistent, medically-accurate education to all learners.
Nationwide Education Efforts
The government of Botswana knew that releasing the software in the country would not be enough. They went a step further to ensure that the software would be used among its population. Since the launch of the TeachAIDS software on World AIDS Day 2011, Former President Festus Mogae, Botswana's Ministry of Education, the United States Peace Corps, and Stepping Stones International (SSI), combined efforts with local educators and administrators to aggressively distribute the software throughout the country. These efforts included:
TeachAIDS Day Events
Early TeachAIDS Day events commenced Thursday evening in a two-hour show with opening remarks from Mr. Menyatso, Head of the Department for Curriculum of Botswana's Ministry of Education. This was followed by performances and testimonials by award-winning artists including Scar, a judge on African Idol.
Lila Pavey of Stepping Stones International described the events:
The lead up to the main event was great and got the crowd excited but really the power of the TeachAIDS animation spoke for itself. The crowd listened carefully to the address by the Former President, and were totally engaged in the animation. Total silence among the crowd of almost 2000 people as they watched TeachAIDS attentively... until the doctor's challenge came where the crowd shouted out answers to questions in unison.
There are many things still to come. UNICEF will distribute additional copies of the software to all of the Adolescent Friendly Clinics across the country. SSI will educate Mochudi police next week along with the Department of Arts and Culture. Barclays will distribute TeachAIDS software to all the branches and community partners, and the video versions of the TeachAIDS animations will be shown on national television.
Education is the cornerstone of behavior change and Botswana has taken a huge step towards ensuring its population receives the most effective HIV education available. It also represents a huge milestone for TeachAIDS: While pilot versions of our software are used in more than 70 countries, our mission is to develop fully-customized language versions to provide the most effective HIV education for all countries, and have them used nationwide in each of them. Today, we have successfully completed country #1.
Former President Festus Mogae offered this message to country:
TeachAIDS has worked with an incredible team of world-class experts, governments around the world, and UNICEF to create a clear way to understand what you need to know about HIV and AIDS. Their tutorials are being used globally and are quickly becoming the standard in HIV and AIDS education. Explore and use this innovative tool. Challenge the myths and misconceptions that still exist in our society.