About the Author: Stephen J. Nolan serves as U.S. Ambassador to Botswana.
Botswana has made great progress in responding to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, reducing mother to child transmission to four percent and providing antiretroviral therapy to 92.5 percent of all citizens in need of treatment. However, preventing and ultimately halting new infections remains a complex challenge, particularly among the under-20 age group, who represent nearly half of the population. The U.S. government is a strong partner in Botswana's response to HIV/AIDS, and we understand clearly that only with changes in the behaviors that drive the epidemic can we begin to slow and, ultimately, stop new infections. We know who the key audience is -- youth -- and we know what the message is -- behavior change. But how do we get that message across in a way that is real and relevant to the people on the receiving end?
You give them what they want.
Earlier this year, the Embassy went into the hip hop music production business -- sort of. We identified several well established local hip hop stars along with some new, up-and-comers. Joined by a visiting U.S. performer and with PEPFAR funding assistance, this group came together to write and produce original hip hop music with lyrics that directly addressed those behaviors among youth that are driving HIV -- multiple concurrent partners, high alcohol consumption, gender inequality, and gender-based violence, among others. What emerged was an original CD, titled Get Up and Go -- Artistic Excellence for an HIV-free Generation. We promoted the CD widely through the media and then the group took the music on the road throughout eastern Botswana and performed for packed audiences. What also emerged were multiple opportunities to reach a key audience that heard an important message.
That was Phase One. To coincide with World AIDS Day, we have taken the project one step further. During the production of the music CD, we also recorded music videos. We combined those with interviews and comments from a wide variety of commentators, even from President Obama. Over the past two weeks, the same young Botswana hip hop artists -- this time joined by Toni Blackman, a visiting hip hop star from the United States -- have been doing live performances across the other half of Botswana, launching the original DVD and again playing to packed audiences. Their final performance will be as part of the official government of Botswana World AIDS Day program on December 1, where President Khama will preside.
HIV/AIDS is a disease that no one has to get, but people need to know how to avoid it and, for youth, it helps if the message comes in a "cool" package delivered by highly credible role models. Through hip hop, a form of music that has broad appeal in Botswana, and with local artists who already have a strong following across the country, we have reached thousands of young people directly and hundreds of thousands more via the media with an important message in a form that they want to listen to.
You give them what they want.