Guinea: Theatre teaches youth how to avoid HIV transmission (by Ibrahima Sory Cissé, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Guinea)

| December 12, 2011

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The public square in Mambia is unusually busy. People are gathering for an evening of open-air theatre. Tonight, educators from an HIV and AIDS counselling centre will perform a play. The performance will deliver information and raise awareness about HIV and AIDS.

The characters use expressive language to describe how HIV is transmitted. They cover everything, including unprotected sex and the use of contaminated objects. The peer educators expose the danger posed by a person who has many sexual partners. In Soussou, the local language, they explain the importance of voluntary testing.

Mambia is a mining town in western Guinea.  The counselling centre that performed the play is known as CECOJE. They chose Mambia because sexual activity is booming in the area. This is due to the presence of the bauxite mine in nearby Débélé. The men who work here are separated for long periods from their families. Many take multiple partners, and prostitution is common. HIV prevalence is around 1.5%. But through awareness raising activities such as the theatre performance, things change.

The audience is surprised when the actors say that the thinnest person in the village is not necessarily the one carrying the virus. The most well-dressed, or the most well-respected person in the village may have HIV. The person may not even know it. The play urges young women and men to use condoms, or to practice fidelity or abstinence. The messages provoke emotional responses from members of the audience. They feel threatened by HIV and AIDS. After the play, many proclaim that they will start to use condoms, which they used to reject.

Yanrie Bangoura was in the audience. She says, “The play made an impression on me, especially where it showed a young AIDS patient who was being badly treated.” She declares that from now on she will use the female condom to avoid infection.

Tafsir Diallo was also in the audience. He was shocked. He says, “I did not know how to use condoms. I did not know that [finger]nails could puncture the condom and make me vulnerable.” He promises to use condoms in his extra-marital affairs, to protect himself and his spouse.

Mamadouba Yansané is director of CECOJE. He says their activities have reached over 500 young women and 1,200 young men.  In the last three months, CECOJE distributed over 3,000 condoms..

AIDS is now the subject of sermons in the mosque in Mambia. Elhadj Mahamoud Camara is the imam. He lost a famly member to the disease, and is now committed to raising awareness of HIV and AIDS. He believes that as a citizen, he must do all he can to protect his community. He explains, “Our religion recommends that Muslims save lives, so if AIDS is a threat we must talk about it to help eradicate it.”

He is also taking practical steps. He says that while his religion allows each man to take four wives, they must all know each other’s health status. He now makes this a requirement. The last couple he married sent him their test results before the ceremony.