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Jiving with Science - an effective way of engaging the public

Author: Astrid Treffry-Goatley - 2011-06-12


Jiving with Science is a new public engagement initiative of the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies. Africa Centre is an international HIV research facility with a partnership HIV testing, treatment and care programme run jointly with the KZN Department of Health. It is based in rural, northern KwaZulu-Natal where the HIV epidemic is one of the most severe in the world with nearly 1 in 2 adults aged 35-40 being infected. This project aims to foster community discussion about scientific research and to bring evidence based HIV health promoting messages to everyday spaces such as public transportation, leisure spaces and shopping precincts. It involves developing, distributing and evaluating 3 CDs over 2 years. Each CD contains a radio-style information interview, interspersed with popular music, targeted HIV health promotion messages and calls to action.


Two of the three CDs are now complete, and are being distributed free-of charge to key stakeholders in the local community including taxi drivers, shebeen owners and hair salon operators. Taxis are the main mode of transport in the Africa Centre research area with almost two thirds of the population (an estimated 50 to 60 thousand people) using a taxi on a weekly basis. Each one has a CD player, although most operators only have a couple of CDs to play. Thus, the primary target audience in this initiative is the users of local mini-bus taxis. On the 13th of February 2011 the project launch was held at the Mtubatuba Taxi Association. The event was well-attended with close to 200 taxi drivers present. At the launch drivers received two CDs together with an HIV fact sheet, a 'Jiving with science' T-shirt and a meal. Once Africa Centre has received feedback from the drivers on commuter responses to these first two CDs, a third disc will be designed and distributed.

This is a really exciting project because we anticipate that these informative CDs will improve the public understanding of HIV transmission and prevention strategies. Furthermore, through this project Africa Centre has engaged new sectors in the community who are now actively participating in its research and effort to prevent HIV transmission. These partnerships are essential to the success of the project. For example, without the engagement and active participation of the taxi drivers, and the local taxi associations, these CDs will not be heard by the public. This project has also allowed Africa Centre to engage partners in the music industry who, in line with social responsibility agendas, have waivered the production rights on selected popular music tracks. In exchange Africa Centre has provided them with an opportunity to advertise and have their music heard in this often-inaccessible rural setting. This is the first time that such a partnership has been developed in this area and we will use this project to gain a more sophisticated understanding of whether and how science communication and the needs of industry can work alongside each other in this context.

To date, the support received from the music industry has been great. For example, DJ Tira, who is the owner of the famous Afrotainment studios and is originally from Hlabisa, has taken a special interest in this project. DJ Tira has donated 6 Afrotainment songs and also plays the part of the main actor in the dialogue. We would like to say a big 'thank you' to DJ Tira for his generosity and support. Another important contributor is Malcom Nhleko of Maltre Productions, who kindly recorded the CD dialogue at his studio in Newlands West. Other partners in the music industry who have provided the project with songs include Sheer Sound, EMI, Gallo, Abafana Bokuthula and Debrah Gumede. Currently, we are compiling the music for the third CD and are looking for hip songs to include. So far, DJ Bongz of Sony music has offered us two songs. Any interested artists and production companies are most welcome to participate.

This blog was published at the Africa Centre website http://www.africacentre.ac.za/Default.aspx?tabid=476

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