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ICAP

In high schools around the world, the art and science of debate is alive and well. Students research their subject matter and prepare to persuade their peers. In Swaziland, student debaters from 20 schools recently threw into the arena some of the most enduring myths about HIV. Arguing their way through common misconceptions about HIV infection and treatment, they persuaded their classmates about the lifesaving benefits of antiretroviral therapy (ART). Developed by ICAP and sponsored by the Swaziland Ministry of Health, the debate series represents a new approach to engaging young people in health communications.

The Kingdom of Swaziland has the highest estimated adult HIV prevalence in the world—approximately 26 percent. Asked by Swaziland’s Ministry of Health to find strategic modes of communication to normalize HIV/AIDS care and treatment dialogue among young people, ICAP partnered with the Bantwana Initative, a children’s NGO, on this innovative project. With their support, local staff reached out to educational administrators and secured the participation of nearly two dozen rural and urban high schools.

ICAP first provided the schools with ART educational material geared toward teachers and students alike, generating awareness and conversation. Each school then organized formal debates, for which student debaters prepared by translating the HIV educational information into language that would be easily understood by their peers. Mentor nurses from local ICAP-supported clinics moderated the debates and engaged the wider student body in a broad discussion identifying misinformation, exploring the origins of the stigma, and addressing underlying misconceptions.

Each school then put forward a team of four debaters, who met opponents from other participating schools in a first round. On April 23, the first and second place teams went head-to-head in a final debate, arguing questions that would stump many adults—Can an HIV-infected parent give birth to a HIV negative child? How safe are health care workers from infected needles? Following the debate, Deputy Director for Public Health, Rejoice Nkambule, from the Ministry of Health, presented the winning team from Mphundle High School with a trophy.

!{filedir_2}Debate_1.jpg(Teachers and students attending the first pilot debate at Good Shepherd High School.)!

p=. *Teachers and students attending the first pilot debate at Good Shepherd High School.*

While ART has been available since 1996, health care workers still struggle with a gap in public knowledge about HIV treatment. People start and stop treatment or never start treatment at all due to a poor understanding of the life-changing benefits of HIV treatment and how to access it. As ICAP works with a new generation that is coming of age with better knowledge of HIV and an understanding of how misinformation affects them, there is great potential to overcome persistent barriers to care. In Swaziland, where nearly half the population is under the age of 18, undermining the myths—and the stigma that they fuel—is possible with continued investment in HIV communication targeting young people.

The Swazi high school debate series was made possible through support of many partners: the Swaziland Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of Education, Bantwana, Alliance of Mayors’ Initiative for Community Action on AIDS at the Local Level (AMICAALL), Cabrini Ministries, Swaziland National Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (SWANNEPHA), PSI, and Siteki School for the Deaf.

!{filedir_2}HS_debate_2.jpg(From the Swaziland Ministry of Health, Deputy Director for Public Health Rejoice Nkambul and students from Mphundle High School accepting their trophy.)!

p=. *From the Swaziland Ministry of Health, Deputy Director for Public Health Rejoice Nkambul and students from Mphundle High School accepting their trophy.*

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