Research finds young people’s positive changes in behaviour are significantly linked to watching sex edutainment by MTV Staying Alive Foundation

Two new research studies conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in South Africa and Tulane University in Nigeria confirm the model of “edutainment”, pioneered by the MTV Staying Alive Foundation (MTV SAF) is promoting positive choices and helping young viewers to prevent HIV and early pregnancy.

The evaluation by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) together with the Epicentre Health Research (South Africa), funded by Unitaid, found that MTV Shuga ‘Down South’ series can help young people to adopt new tools to prevent HIV, including self-testing and oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug taken by HIV-negative people before and after sex that reduces the risk of getting HIV. Preliminary findings from South Africa show a strong and consistent link with HIV prevention behaviors: young people who engaged with the MTV Shuga series had twice the odds to know about HIV self-testing and PrEP, use an HIV self-test, and know their HIV status, compared to those who hadn’t watched the show.

A study in Nigeria by Tulane University, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which evaluated the MTV Shuga Naija series found similarly positive results, impacting attitudes towards gender-based violence, with victim-blaming decreasing significantly amongst both men and women. The research also showed that girls were more likely to open up to their parents about sexual violence after watching the show. Girls who viewed the show also expressed greater motivation to use contraception, feeling that using contraception is “easy,” and to actually use modern contraception.

Georgia Arnold, Executive Director, MTV SAF, said, “These results are fantastic news and further evidence that our model of edutainment works. For over a decade, MTV Shuga has proven adept at influencing young people’s behaviours through entertaining, immersive, and challenging content, combined with relatable characters who audiences care deeply about. It is why we must continue investing in positive storytelling to improve public health.”

Dr Isolde Birdthistle, Associate Professor of Adolescent Health and Epidemiology at LSHTM, from the team who carried out the South Africa evaluation said, “This is an exciting time when the options for HIV prevention, including self-tests and PrEP, are growing, yet too few young people are aware of or have access to these tools. Our research showed that MTV Shuga is helping to expand the prevention choices for young people, by providing accurate and relevant information through engaging storylines. Many young people became aware of HIV self-testing and PrEP for the first time through the series, and also helped to spread awareness among their peers, parents and partners.”

“MTV Shuga is driving real impact by demystifying and familiarizing viewers with the HIV self-testing process, empowering young people to know their HIV status and avoid infection,” said Robert Matiru, Director of Programmes at Unitaid. “It is putting a spotlight on young people’s real-life concerns and stimulating awareness of, and demand for, prevention and treatment services.”

The new studies complement earlier findings on MTV Staying Alive Foundation’s behaviour change work, including a study conducted by the World Bank Development Impact Evaluation (DIME) which suggest that for every $1 invested in the MTV Shuga series, there is a return in health and welfare benefits in the order of $150.

Monde Twala, MTV SAF Board member and Senior Vice President, ViacomCBS Africa said “It is inspiring to see the positive impact from the research back up the power of edutainment formats that reach into people’s hearts. The authentic and engaging content drives important behavioural change. With the pandemic placing intense strain on health services and people in lock down for months, we have seen how MTV Shuga content and engagement is often a lifeline for young people. These are powerful collaborative platforms and I’m excited to see where MTV Shuga innovates next.”

During the pandemic the MTV Staying Alive Foundation showed its adaptability with new content specifically focused on COVID-19 under the MTV Shuga “Alone Together” series. MTV SAF implements a similar campaign in India, MTV Nishedh, with a second season currently in pre-production; and is looking to scale up work across sub-Saharan Africa, to include messaging on mental health, vaccine hesitancy, TB, as well as sexual reproductive health, messaging.

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