We can learn a lot from television.  Sometimes the best teaching comes when presented in a dramatic form.  Soap Operas have been a stable of American television for fifty years and their very structure brings form to understanding.

In many ways Soap Operas are the perfect delivery method for bringing light for difficult Public Health issues across the world.

Here’s an AIDS prevention example from South Africa:


The increasing spread of the HIV/AIDS has influenced the lives of thousands of families in Vietnam. HIV/AIDS is strongly associated with “Social evils” and at risk “groups”. “It won’t happen to me” is a common cry. CARE aimed to educate a mass number of people in Vietnam about HIV/AIDS through an entertaining, captivating television drama series which subtly portrays HIV/AIDS as “everyone’s disease.”


A joint project of Niger’s Broadcasting Corporation (ORTN) and UNICEF, the programme, titled ‘Soueba’, is a compelling serial drama that focuses on the lives of young people in Niamey, Niger’s capital. It follows their journey into adulthood, while exploring love, sex, betrayal and the realities of HIV/AIDS. With ‘Soueba’, UNICEF and its partners hope to use the soaring popularity of soap operas in West Africa to spread their message.


Ten radio stations in Ghana recently launched a pilot project that aims to promote awareness about HIV/AIDS through a soap opera, the Accra Mail/AllAfrica.com reports. The project is funded by the Ghana AIDS Commission under the National Innovation Program. It is implemented by the Centre for Development Communication.


A secondary data analysis of the evaluation survey of the Bolivia Social Marketing Program (BSMP) was conducted to compare demographic characteristics of three groups of respondents including those who were familiar with the television soap opera containing AIDS education messages, those who reported to have knowledge of AIDS, and those who reported to change their sexual behavior related to AIDS. The primary objective was to determine if any association between familiarity with the soap opera and AIDS related sexual behavior change.

Why do you think Soap Operas are such powerful conduits for conveying vital health information?  Is it because we like and know the characters?  Or is something else going on behind the scenes within us?

What other public health matters have you seen dealt with bluntly and dramatically on Soap Operas?


  1. near 1993: Sami Brady on Days of our Lives, a teenager, is raped. She takes both an AIDS test and a pregnancy test. Both come back negative. After each episode, there is a PSA saying that if you have been raped, you should report it and who to go to for counseling. That had a huge impact on me.

  2. Coronation Street – a UK staple dealt with Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago – one of the major characters was killed off that way over a number of months.
    EastEnders tackled pedophilia earlier this year too.

  3. Fantastic, Nicola, thanks!
    Can you think of any examples from, say 20-30 years ago — something you saw that teased its way into Public Health discourse from a Soap Opera?

  4. Definitely. There was a huge storyline when one of the characters had a baby that was born with Down’s Syndrome. The father nearly had a nervous breakdown on the train one morning when it stopped functioning between stations and they ultimately gave her up for adoption because they couldn’t cope. Every episode came tagged with a “If you were affected by the storyline you can find more information at the following web site…”

  5. Love it, Gordon! It’s so neat that these experiences have stayed with you and you can recall them at will. That’s a great testimony to their power!

  6. Grange Hill – the children’s soap opera tackled bullying and drug taking back in the 1980’s.

  7. Not a soap opera but I remember “A Taste of Honey” when it came out on film ………. it was quite shocking to a middle class white country girl.

  8. There was a tremendous uproar when it was discovered on Corrie that Hayley Cropper was, in fact, born as Harold Peterson. A transgender character on a soap in 1998 was pretty much unheard of. I’m not sure to what extent that is a health issue but shortly after she was introduced she did have to go to finish her operations to complete the transition to female so I guess it is medical!

  9. Love that, Nicola. Entertainment can be used for the greater good. We can live out the “what ifs” and see how the world reacts. “Raisin in the Sun.” “Medea.” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and so on…

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