The youth of Zambia have formed groups which they call Safe Love who communicate to the deaf; these groups were set up as places to discuss and put into action messages from the Love Games television series, a Zambian soap opera that focuses on relationship issues, including HIV.
Zambia is a country where 14.3 percent of the adult population is HIV positive. The Safe Love clubs have the responsibility to educate deaf people About HIV; however, though the clubs started in 2011, classes for the deaf were launched only two months ago.
In the country it is estimated that 16,000 have hearing disabilities, and most of them go to school late making them older than most of the other children and are more likely to be sexually active.
Ben Miti, Executive Director of the Latkings Outreach programme, one of the partners of the initiative, said the decision was made to set up a club at Munali high school, Lusaka, after health workers discovered high levels of HIV among deaf young people there.
The school has a department for deaf children and young people, and out of 127 students who attend it were tested for HIV, 48 were found to be positive.
“Many of these young people have completely missed out on the conventional messages about safe sex. Lots of warnings are given out over the radio or on television, which is something they are cut off from. There is no programme designed specifically for the deaf. Even at health rallies, people use megaphones to give their messages and they are again left out,” said Miti
“When we saw the results we felt there was a need for an intervention. There weren’t any HIV programmes where deaf young people could go to learn. We released we had to engage them and that we needed to open a Safe Love club here. When we launched it we actually had too many members for one group so we now have two,” he continued.
Large age gaps between couples and young people having sexual relationships for material gain are common problems in Zambia.
There are 262 Safe Love clubs in Zambia as part of the HIV prevention campaign Safe Love. Think. Talk. Act. The initiative is run by the national HIV/Aids/STI/TB council and the ministry of health, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAid), through the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief.
The clubs are used to discuss messages raised in the soap opera, which has just begun its second series in Zambia. They include issues such as some of the risky behaviors that drive HIV in the country, including a high rate of concurrent sexual partners and low condom use.