Partying has taken on a whole new meaning for grantee International Federation of Medical Students’ Association (IFMSA) as Anna Szczegielniak helps spread creative safe sex messages in Polish clubs.
1. Tell us how IFMSA has created a ‘teaching through fun’ approach to HIV/AIDS prevention from your project funded by the Staying Alive Foundation?
During 14 years of providing Peer Education in schools and organising many educational actions, we have observed a huge lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS issues among society, even the young generation. The evidence that supports this theory can be found among results of surveys which show that the predominant group of newly diagnosed HIV positives is a group of young adults declaring risky sexual behavior. Sadly there is a problem of awareness on how important the use of condoms is – one third of respondents never use one. We also discovered that there is a big difference between effects of school’s lectures based on multimedia presentations and meetings on ‘neutral ground’, when educators are chatting and playing games with participants. Various tools were used since the beginning- we have prepared educational board games, raffles, quizzes, etc. This informal approach led us to the idea of organizing safe-sex parties with educational stands and we have been developing the idea for some time now. We wanted to create an event dedicated for teenagers and young adults which they would find interesting as well as worth joining. We wanted an event that would encourage young people to change views by fun and laughter, as there is no doubt that boring lectures or leaflets full of texts will never reach the aim. This is how ‘Streetcar called desire’ was designed for MTV Staying Alive grant.
2. Why have you targeted trams in Poland and how do you deliver HIV awareness information?
An idea of the Night HIV/AIDS-free Tram have just popped out one day in our heads. This is the most popular means of transport for young people in cities, especially among universities’ and high schools’ students, so incorporating it into the project gave us the opportunity to reach wide group of participants. We decided to arrange educational stands not only in the trams, but also inside popular clubs and at tram stops to make people take part in our event while also waiting for the streetcars (however weather in Poland is really unpredictable and it was really hard to arrange it). We have selected five cities- Kraków, Lublin, Warsaw, Wrocław, Poznań- as they’re typical ‘student’ and ‘young adults’ cities’. ‘Teaching through fun’ method is the best way of sustaining awareness among young adults (the main group under danger of HIV infection) and the results of the very first edition of ‘Streetcar called desire’ were more than satisfactory.
The action consists of:
The consulting streetcars are running during the night on a tour containing tram stops close to the most popular youth clubs in the city. There are medical students from IFMSA-Poland working as Safe Behavior Consultants in the streetcars and at information stands full of stickers and free condoms. We replaced traditional leaflets, which can be easily lost at parties, with stickers about safe sex behavior and coupons for free HIV testing within next 2 months. Moreover, we organize quizzes to share proper information about prevention of HIV, STI’s, condom use and HIV testing. The tram is divided into two sections: educational zone with safe sex quizzes and party zone with a DJ that enables people to party, get free condoms and providing knowledge about HIV/AIDS at the same time.
We organize Safe Sex Parties in cooperation with the local clubs. There are short movies about safe behavior and HIV prevention shown in the clubs to make people pay attention to the party theme. Medical students work as Party Workers giving out stickers, free condoms, red ribbons and encouraging participants to take part in our Safe Sex Games, teaching how to protect themselves from HIV infection (e.g. how to use condoms correctly).
3. What’s the general consensus on HIV in Poland amongst young people?
Results of questionnaires by which we are checking basic knowledge about HIV transmission, epidemiology, treatment and prevention are unsatisfactory. 30% of participants believe that you can get the virus through a kiss, 20% is sure that a condom won’t stop spreading the infection, 60% say ‘yes’ to a question whether HIV infection can occur as a result of viral transmission from mother to child during birth. The biggest problem is that young people in Poland still think that the virus is not a part of ‘their world’.
4. What have you gained on a personal level by working with IFMSA Poland?
IFMSA-Poland gives medical students an amazing and valuable opportunity to develop their skills and interests, as well as allowing us to meet other young people who see a need to work on the basis of disease prevention and health promotion. I have learned many important things from these two years, but I think that the most valuable is the belief that as long we can change, the world can change.
This year I’ve been elected for a position of National Coordinator of the Standing Committee on Reproductive Health of IFMSA-Poland. This is an amazing award and, at the same time, new responsibilities.
5. What’s next for IFMSA?
Right now we have few projects ‘on the run’ through the Staying Alive Foundation. ‘Streetcar called desire’ is the most known in Poland, but we are also conducting peer-education in schools about first gynecological consultations (for girls) and boys’ reproductive health problems (called ‘men’s issues’). Every year we are involved in celebration of World AIDS Day and Candlelight Memorial. We are also working on the development of the project ‘Daphne’ through which we are fighting with violence directed to women.