HIV awareness need not be restricted only to TV commercials and booklets.
In an attempt to reach out to today's youth through a method they understand well, the Mumbai District AIDS Control Society (MDACS) has launched a mobile phone game called The Protector to educate them about HIV. The game is free to download and was launched on August 12 (International Youth Day).
“These days, people aren’t shy about having sex, but they are shy about using condoms. We thought that this strategy would be effective in reaching out to the youth, who best understand this mode of communication. The word condom is used freely in the game so that the idea of condoms as protection gets instilled in the mind of the young gamers,” says Dr S Kudalkar, project director at MDACS.
He adds that the game targets people in the 12 to 40 age group, who fall under the high-risk category.
Incidentally, according to the figures recorded by MDACS, HIV prevalence in the city has decreased over the years.
The storyline of The Protector revolves around a 25-year-old urban youngster, who works in an office and passes through different settings like a corporate environment, a nightclub, even slums.
“Though he is not shown as a Mumbai youngster, he can easily be identified as someone who belongs to an Indian metro,” says Binitha Benkatraman, joint director of communications at MDACS.
Through the four levels of the game, the HIV virus, an infected syringe and other infection-causing elements, attack the youngster.
As he battles various hurdles, he must turn to condoms to get an energy boost and beat these elements. The game runs on GPRS and can be downloaded by SMSing ‘Protect’ to 53636.
A link is sent and upon clicking on it, the game is made available to the subscriber.
Apart from actually building awareness about HIV and giving advice on ways to prevent contraction, the MDACS helpline number is also included in the game.
Players can call the helpline to get their misconceptions and queries clarified. Though the game is currently available only in Mumbai, depending on the response the game gets, it could also be sent to NACO (National AIDS Control Organisation) to be adapted for other centres.
MDACS also supports Red Ribbon Clubs in city colleges. These college committees, trained in HIV-related information, will be present at 100 Ganesh pandals across Mumbai to create awareness on HIV. The students will conduct small games and skits to reach out to a wider audience who visits these venues.