Capitalizing on the commonly accepted authority of a didi (“elder sister” in Bengali), Bula-di educates the public in West Bengal, India about HIV transmission and prevention. A non-threatening, sari-clad puppet with large, round eyes, Bula-di appears on billboards, advertisements, television and radio commercials, and posters throughout the city. Whether on a street corner or in a subway car, Bula-di warns parents who seek potential suitors for their daughters that “looks, education and character alone do not make for an ideal son-in-law.” And further advises, “Don’t decide before he’s gone through an HIV test.” In another instance, Bula-di matter-of-factly informs a wife who suspects her husband’s infidelity to “go for a blood test immediately” because 61% of HIV patients in West Bengal are married. Bula-di even encourages communities to be accepting of those who are HIV+ and provides a toll-free number (1097) for those in need of assistance or more information.
Launched on World AIDS Day in 2004 by the West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society (WBSPACS), Bula-di seems to have been quite effective in her word of mouth quest to reach the public. “The Bula-di campaign is by far the most successful HIV/AIDS campaign in the state. A formal impact assessment study revealed that as many as 79% of all respondents said they had not seen any HIV/AIDS-related campaign prior to this,” says Suresh Kumar, WBSPACS Project Director. Before the Bula-di campaign, only 9% of people said they believed HIV is a serious threat to India (where an estimated 2.4 million people are HIV+), and 95% of women said they did not believe they could contract HIV. A year after the campaign was launched, 83% of people reported the campaign had changed the way they view HIV/AIDS and 90% were able to identify the ways HIV can be transmitted.
Not everyone is happy about the HIV prevention message being so overt though. One fear is that Bula-di’s pervasive public presence may be too much for inquisitive children to understand, and suggest the state is stepping on parents’ turf. Others question the problem of Buld-di’s perpetuation of sexist stereotypes, which are communicated in addition to raising awareness about HIV. Perfect or no, the Bula-di campaign has staying power. Five years later, the doll continues to be the face of HIV prevention in the state.
Here are three Bula-di commercials for your edutainment:
* All of the unlinked stats are from the West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society