Johannesburg - Watching television can have a big impact on young people’s attitudes towards HIV/Aids and safe sex, if the series espouses the right messages.

This was the conclusion reached by the World Bank in a report released on Wednesday that studied drama series MTV Shuga, produced by MTV Base (Africa) and the MTV Staying Alive Foundation.

The study, conducted in Nigeria, found that watching the show increased the likelihood of an individual getting tested for HIV.

“The experimental evaluation shows that MTV Shuga directly improved knowledge, attitudes and behaviours related to HIV/Aids,” said Victor Orozco, principal investigator from the World Bank’s Development Impact Evaluation Unit.

MTV Shuga can potentially alter attitudes and behaviours of millions of individuals at low marginal costs.”

The study followed 5 000 18- to 25-year-olds from south-western Nigeria for the six-month evaluation. The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Impact Evaluation to Development Impact, a World Bank fund.

According to the study, individuals who watched the show were 35 percent more likely to report getting tested in the last six months. Furthermore, soon after the data-collection period, twice as many viewers of the show went to sexual health centres for testing.

A 58 percent reduction of chlamydia (a very small parasitic bacterium) was also seen among female viewers. Viewers reported engaging in safer sex and were less likely to have concurrent sexual partners.

“We’re heartened to see that the work we’re doing with MTV Shuga is helping to drive positive social change,” said Georgia Arnold, executive director of the Staying Alive Foundation, the network’s HIV prevention initiative.

“To witness TV actually decreasing sexually transmitted infections is powerful.”

According to 2015 UNAids data, HIV prevalence is eight times higher in adolescent females than adolescent males.

Although Aids-related deaths fell among all age groups by 35 percent from 2005 to 2013, such deaths among adolescents increased by 50 percent, according to the Lancet Commission.

“A deeper understanding of what makes young people choose to protect their sexual and reproductive health is critical to building health services that are safe and can meet their needs,” said Mina Barling, director of strategic programmes for Marie Stopes International.

The series, initially based in Kenya but now filmed in Nigeria, emphasises stories related to HIV and safe sex. A fifth season of the series, this time set in South Africa, will begin pre-production in September.