Cell Phone Soap Operas Promote Condom Use, HIV Awareness

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A new campaign aims to provide women with messages about HIV awareness, safer sex and condom use through a series of 12 soap opera vignettes that can be viewed on a cell phone, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Rachel Jones, an educator at Rutgers University's College of Nursing, developed the campaign using professional actors and scripts based on focus groups with women in Newark and Jersey City, N.J.

The soap opera's 20-minute episodes feature "nitty gritty stories of risk and risk reduction" with which women can identify, Jones said. She added that cell phones allow women to have privacy when viewing the episodes and enables them to watch them repeatedly. Jones said she believes that "knowledge alone is not effective at changing behaviors" but that woman in the targeted communities might change their behaviors if they identify with characters in the videos.


According to Jones, many women experience pressure from their partners to have unprotected sex, and "[t]hese relationship concerns can feel much more important in the moment for some women than reducing HIV/AIDS, which can feel more distant." She added that the videos aim to "normalize condom use." According to Jones, 82% of new HIV infections affecting people ages 18 to 29 are transmitted through heterosexual sex with an HIV-positive partner. Jones said the percentage of HIV cases transmitted through heterosexual sex is "astounding" because the virus is a "completely preventable infection."

The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey provided funding for the project and NIH recently granted $2 million for a study assessing the effectiveness of the campaign. For the NIH study, which will involve 250 women, one group of participants will watch the soap operas on their cell phones. Researchers will then measure their risk-reduction behavior against a control group receiving text messages, but no video, encouraging condom use. At the end of the study, all participants will receive a DVD of the soap opera episodes, which also will be available online (Delli Santi, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 1/5).

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