Launched in March 2014, Réseaux ("Networks" in English) was a six-episode Ivorian television drama series designed to help promote safer sexual behaviours among sexually active young girls, and adult married men and women. The story follows the lives and relationships of three middle class family fathers in their 40s, and seeks to show how sexual networks develop and how they increase the risk of HIV infection for everyone in that network.
A survey of HIV prevalence in Ivory Coast conducted in 2011-2012 by the Institut National de Statistiques under the direction of the Ministry of Health and AIDS found the highest prevalence to be among men and women ages 40-49. The formative research conducted for the series revealed that this cohort of men tend to think they are not at risk for infection - if they think about HIV at all. At the same time, many young women, enter into relationships with older men to seek economic benefits.
For this reason, the series firstly sought to raise awareness and discussion about the fact that HIV affects not only young people, but also adults. The primary target audience was therefore adult men and women aged 35-50, living in urban settings with at least a secondary education level, average or high incomes, and living as a couple. The secondary target audience was men and women aged 20-25, who live in urban settings, have a secondary education level, low incomes, and who are single.
The specific goals of the series were to:
- Encourage sexually active young girls and married adults to reflect on their sexual behaviours.
- Increase HIV risk perception in sexually active young girls and married adults.
- Encourage reflection on couple relationships and on communication around sexuality, HIV, and condoms.
- Help sexually active young girls and married adults to overcome their fear of HIV testing.
- Encourage reflection on the current values of Ivorian society, including challenging values that foster multiple partnerships and lack of condom use.
- Provide role models, who adopt healthy sexual behaviours and know their HIV status, with whom target audiences can identify with.
Réseaux takes place in Abidjan and follows three families in the well-off residential suburb, Cocody. There is Jean-Yves, an executive in a local company and in his mid-40s, who is torn between his wife, Sara, and his young mistress, Nina, and who also occasionally engages in relations with his coworker, Anita. Along with his two best friends from university, François and Zadi, Jean-Yves is caught in a complex sexual network of current and past relationships that intersect and put him at risk of becoming infected with HIV. His friend François, a Tax Office executive, is also caught in a love dilemma between his present partner and Bintou, an old flame from university days. On the other hand, Zadi, a university professor, is a "retired" seducer and now a devoted husband to his wife, Jacqueline, and his children. He often acts as a voice of reason for his old accomplices.
Furthering the discussion through complementary media
A radio talk show based on the drama series was also aired from March 2014. It was broadcast after each television broadcast on Radio Jam in Abidjan, Agnia FM in Abengourou, Média+ CI in Bouaké, Junior FM in Man, Yackoi FM in San Pedro, and Royal FM in Yamoussoukro. In the show, a doctor who specialises in HIV/AIDS and a psychologist who specialises in relationship counseling fielded calls from listeners during the radio show. Themes of the radio programmes included: Couple communication, multiple sexual partnerships and its consequences, condom use, HIV testing, ARV treatment, and living positively with HIV.
Discussion about the show and the issues raised were also being promoted through a Réseaux website and Facebook page. Messages were also being reinforced through posters, t-shirts, and bus stop advertising.
For more information about the show and to view episodes, go to the Réseaux website.
Ivory Coast remains the country most affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in West Africa. According to the Ivory Coast Demographic and Health and Multiple Indicator Survey (EDS-MICS 2011-2012), while the national HIV prevalence is 3.4%, older men have the highest prevalence rates with 40-44 year-old rates at 7.7% and 45-49 year-old rates at 7.9%. As for women, their HIV prevalence rate increases with age, 3.6% among the 20-24 year-old, 5.6% among the 25-29 year-old, 6.8% among the 30-34 year-old, 7.3% among the 40-44 year-old, and 7.7% among women aged 45-49.
Formative research for the series revealed that in urban settings, at least for the cities of the study, economic needs, search for sexual pleasure and new experiences leads to intergenerational sexual relations. Thus, it is common practice for young girls to engage in sexual relationships with adult men with the aim of getting "rewards" (money to meet livelihood needs, clothes, mobile phones). Men who engage in this kind of relationship with young girls under 25 are generally 40 and over, married and have a comfortable financial situation. Their motivations are the search of new sexual experiences, the need to break with the monotony of married life, and because it makes them feel healthy.
According to JHUCCP, these relationships create an imbalance of power and leave young girls at risk of HIV/AIDS, STIs and unwanted pregnancies, as they are very often unable to impose condom use in that relationship, due in part to their financial dependence on those adult men. As a result of these high-risk sexual behaviours, the men's wives may then be infected with HIV.
Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (JHUCCP)’s Active Prevention and Transformative Communication (PACT) programme; Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3); Spot Line; and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Email received from Patricia Dailly Ajavon from JHUCCP, Ivory Coast and JHUCCP website on August 11 2014.