Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Medicine and the media

The soap opera that saves lives

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 15 May 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1102
  1. Jane Cassidy, freelance journalist

A “public health” soap opera has such a large number of fans in South Africa that it is now being rolled out to neighbouring countries. Jane Cassidy reports

A soap opera on South African television that is run by public health activists is now to be screened across eight neighbouring countries, with the help of a £14m (€18m; $27m) grant from the UK government. Soul City is watched by more than 34 million people in South Africa, over 70% of the population. In tackling a range of gritty health and social issues, from HIV and AIDS to rape, the drama doesn’t pull its punches.

In a country where more than one in 10 people has HIV or AIDS, “edutainment” can play a big role in encouraging people to change their behaviour and in helping to save lives, says the UK Department for International Development, which has supported the shows for the past 13 years.

The Soul City phenomenon has spread from television to radio and spawned information booklets, advertising campaigns, and a young people’s spin-off series called Soul Buddyz, with 3600 Soul Buddyz clubs nationwide. There is a Soul City Institute and a behaviour change communication campaign …

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