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In Kenya, UN partners with MTV to dramatize stories of love – and HIV infection

In Kenya, UN partners with MTV to dramatize stories of love – and HIV infection

Actress Lupita Nyong'o in a scene from the Kenyan TV drama ‘Shuga’.
The United Nations and MTV are reaching out to young Kenyans to highlight that HIV is not a death sentence though a new three-part television series exploring the lives and love of a group of friends in Nairobi.

“It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s cool – and that’s exactly how we filmed it,” said Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Ayira, one of the lead roles in the show entitled Shuga.

Her character is a college student torn between a boyfriend her own age and an older man in the series that underscores how behaviours – including having multiple sexual partners, exploitation and alcohol abuse – can increase young people’s vulnerability to HIV.

“Especially where we were doing the scenes where we were doing the HIV testing, there was a hush on the set,” Ms. Nyong’o said at a panel discussion recently at the New York headquarters of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which collaborated with MTV and other partners to produce the show.

“It was a heavy time for us, and a lot of actors said, ‘This is real. Yeah, this is real – and I need to make a change in my life.’”

Messages about AIDS prevention are especially vital in East and Southern Africa, the heart of the global epidemic, according to UNICEF, with young women particularly affected by the virus.

“In some countries, as many as three young women to each young man are infected,” said Susan Kasedde, the agency’s Senior Specialist in HIV Prevention.

According to UNICEF, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO), out of a total population of nearly 40 million people in Kenya, up to two million are living with HIV.

UNICEF acknowledged that popular programmes like Shuga alone will not bring an end to the epidemic, but can help to fight the stigma faced by people living with HIV.