MTV Staying Alive Foundation invests in young leaders working to prevent HIV in their local areas. They use loads of different approaches to improve reproductive health knowledge in their communities: we have a project that provides education to women and girls in Rwanda through football; one that delivers preventative information through interactive film screenings to migrants in the DRC; and another that uses taekwondo and acrobatics to disseminate HIV messaging to injecting drug users in Kenya. However, although the approaches they use vary according to the beneficiary group and context, one aspect common to almost all of our projects is the use of ‘peer education’. And there is a very simple reason that we continue to support this approach: it works.
But what is ‘peer education’? The broad definition is the teaching of others, where this is provided by ordinary local people as opposed to experts. This works better in theory because it is thought that individuals who are receiving this training are more likely to listen to people like themselves, who will understand the best means to communicate, and will better understand the situation on a day-to-day level. In particular, this method of mass education has been popular with HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns in developing countries.
From studies conducted in the area of peer education, it seems that this idea holds true, and some real benefits are provided. In 2010, USAID, the government agency responsible for distributing the USA’s foreign aid, considered over 30 individual studies in regards to the effectiveness of peer teaching. It found that those who had been part of peer education programmes were twice as likely to demonstrate increased knowledge about HIV. Participants were also twice as likely to use a condom, and injecting drug users were half as likely to share drug injecting equipment. A further study by Advocates for Youth, a youth-orientated sexual health awareness organisation, looked at 28 different research projects of peer education from all over the world. In this extensive study, they consistently found that peer programs were helping to improve attitudes, knowledge and behaviour, leading to important health outcomes in the community. These are very encouraging results, and demonstrate to us that having young leaders at the forefront of our programmes really has the potential to maximise results in the local community.
Since the Staying Alive Foundation started supporting youth-led HIV initiatives back in 2005, we have helped to deliver preventative education to 2.9 million people. This has principally been achieved through the use of peer-education, and based on the studies listed above, we believe this has made a large impact on the ground. There is a long way to go in the battle against HIV/AIDS, but by engaging young people in our projects, and by utilising peer-led education, we can make a big impact, and ultimately work towards a world free from HIV.