How to fight HIV through dance

BY Jason Kane and Justin Scuiletti  November 29, 2013 at 1:39 PM EST


Listen to Lloyd Bore describe some of PSI’s HIV-fighting weapons, including a dance troupe that performs regularly in the streets of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Lloyd Bore knows a dance that’s been proven to fight HIV. It’s a difficult performance — one filled with full-body flailing, gyrations and acrobatics. But if it’s done right, those who witness it walk away partially immune from the virus that causes AIDS.

One major caveat, of course: The audience must listen to the words and then take action to protect themselves. The only real magic here is the “edutainment.” That’s what Bore calls the effect of the educational song-and-dance routines performed by a troupe of actors and musicians with the nonprofit group Public Services International, or PSI. The hope is that people hanging out on the nearby streets will come a little closer for the routine and stick around long enough to digest some sobering realities conveyed through the skits and music:

  • About 1 in 20 residents of Tanzania are infected with HIV.
  • The virus hits youth particularly hard: 65 to 70 percent of infections occur in young people, with most deaths occurring in the 25-35 age range.
  • Only about half of Tanzanian men report using condoms the last time they engaged in “high-risk sex.”

Now for the good news: much of this suffering can be prevented through correct and consistent condom use, abstinence and remaining faithful to your partner. That’s portrayed in the performances, too — sometimes along with condom demonstrations and other practical tips for avoiding HIV.

All told, it’s not the most pleasant message to hear blaring from giant speakers on the street, but it’s one that goes down a little easier with the flash-and-bang effect of a few beating drums and somersaulting actors.

PSI Tanzania directly reaches more than two million people per year with these messages through the dance troupes, as well as events in bars and nightclubs, youth sporting events and outdoor film nights throughout the country.

“In all of our activities, we look at the cultural aspects of that particular area — the activities that they do and have been doing since time immemorial, like drumming. And we incorporate them into our events,” Bore said. “That way, we are able to identify ourselves with the community and can begin to start erasing the stigma.” This attitude of partnership, he said, “also means you are listening to them and partnering — not just coming with your own funny-funny ideas.”

Listen to Bore describe the group’s “edutainment” projects in the audio slide show above.

To mark World AIDS Day — which will be observed worldwide this year on Sunday, Dec. 1 — read two in-depth PBS NewsHour reports on the virus: “The Street of Blood and Smoke,” a look at an unusual partnership between a nurse and a drug dealer fighting the virus together, and “The HIV Rebound Nobody Is Discussing.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is a primary financial supporter of PSI’s HIV outreach activities in Tanzania. Jason Kane traveled to Tanzania with The Global Fund for this story and several others. Photos courtesy of The Global Fund/Mia Collis and Jonx Pillemer. Audio slide show edited by the NewsHour’s Justin Scuiletti.