- Mainstream TV in Africa can promote debate and dialogue on a wide range of important health-related issues.
- These issues range from maternal health and contraception to domestic violence and family planning.
- “Edutainment” can generate dialogue in communities and help tackle a range of inequalities in society.
- Social media and communication strategies have a key role in raising awareness of such issues in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Two Senegalese television programmes – C’est la Vie and Bruits de Tambours – seek to combine the use of mass communication with a community approach to promote debate and dialogue on issues ranging from high rates of maternal deaths to lack of access to sexual health.
The two series employ up to 200 professional actors, writers, directors and technicians, with one of the aims being to raise public awareness of issues on access to health information on the African continent. Both programmes strive to combine entertainment and education – “edutainment” – with sometimes hard-to-stomach realism.
Their efforts are underpinned by the Black No Sugar project in Uganda, which has spotlighted sexual violence in higher-learning institutions.
Since its launch, the C’est la Vie coverage has highlighted the tragic death of a 15-year-old girl who had a clandestine abortion and related in detail the plight of four women whose negative experiences illustrate current shortcomings of health systems in Africa.
The series seeks to stimulate debate and dialogue on issues as diverse as maternal health and early pregnancy to contraception and domestic violence, all matters of direct concern to some of the most vulnerable in Africa.
C’est la Vie, part-funded by the Gates Foundation, is currently available mostly via local TV in Africa but is seeking to reach an even wider public audience to generate more widespread debate and reflection.
It does this through telling personal stories, both through the TV series and multi-media games, and by combining traditional entertainment with education, hence the phrase “edutainment”. This shows it is possible to match entertainment with hard-hitting social issues which, hopefully, can then help bring change across a range of areas, such as domestic violence.
C’est la Vie alone is translated into French and English and broadcasts in 44 African countries. Its relative success shows the power of TV and other mass communication tools to educate and change cultural perceptions and behaviour on everything from reproductive health to sexual and gender-based violence and equity. The fact that the series is already watched by tens of millions shows the potential of social communication strategies and digital media.
However, the scope to do even more is obvious. For example, C’est la Vie has so far broadcast 62 episodes but these are almost entirely in French. There are now plans to dub the series into English and/or the local language to reach an even wider audience. Other issues, such as citizenship, will also be dealt with in upcoming episodes.
The series gives a voice to the voiceless by trying to promote debate on otherwise taboo subjects such as gender equality. The use of a TV series, plus radio programmes, digital platforms and games present a great opportunity to grasp public attention.
But just as important is evaluating the public impact of such endeavours. Demonstrating the added value of programmes like C’est la Vie will also help unlock the all-important further funding to allow the continuation of such initiatives.
Retailing harrowing personal stories on TV screens may not always make for pleasant viewing but, when done in an educational and entertaining way, it can help foster public debate.