The 'Khomanani -- Caring Together for Life' campaign is the government's main
communication initiative on HIV/AIDS. Its aim is to spread knowledge about HIV
and shape attitudes towards AIDS through radio, television and newspapers --
also through large meetings and public events. (Khomanani is a Tsonga word
meaning "caring together".)
The campaign received a substantial budget from government of just over 26
million dollars for the 2004/2006 period. Yet, the 2005 'South African National
HIV Prevalence, HIV Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Survey'*
-- one of the highest-rated HIV/AIDS research reports in the country --
showed that of all the AIDS information campaigns underway, Khomanani reaches
the fewest people.
Only 33,8 percent of teenagers aged between 12 and 14, and 46,7 percent of
young people between 15 and 24 were aware of the campaign, according to the
survey. For those aged 25 to 49, the figure was 41,7 percent.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS puts adult HIV prevalence in
South Africa at 21.5 percent.
"The fundamental problem is that (the government's) communication on HIV
reflects the overall failure to treat this as an issue that requires national
mobilisation and effort," says Neva Makgetla, head of the policy unit at
the Congress of South African Trade Unions -- and one of the most vocal critics
of the official AIDS communication strategy.
"We would expect that the country would be inundated with information
about the epidemic, including efforts to end stigma, promote safe sex and
understand treatment options," she told IPS. "Instead, we see only
occasional ads and virtually no other use of the media such as placing columns
or interviews -- or distribution of educational material."
These sentiments are echoed by Nathan Geffen, spokesman for the Treatment
Action Campaign, an non-governmental group that lobbies for greater access to
anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs). He says the substance of Khomanani's message is
acceptable, "but there isn't enough of it. These adverts should be running
on most radio and television stations continuously, everyday."
Even more importantly, he told IPS, high-level officials need to become more
vocal about safe sex and ascertaining HIV status -- something that would not
cost a cent.
"We need President Mbeki and Minister Tshabalala-Msimang to go on radio
and television everyday to encourage people to get tested and, if necessary,
treated. They should also be encouraging people to use condoms if they have
penetrative sex," said Geffen.
Thabo Mbeki and the minister of health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, have both
been accused of fuelling the spread of the pandemic by questioning the safety of
ARVs -- and entertaining claims that HIV does not lead to AIDS.
But can the type of wall-to-wall AIDS messaging that Makgetla and Geffen
advocate -- and media coverage in general -- really make a significant
difference in the fight against HIV?
Research done last year indicated that the media had virtually no effect on
behaviour related to the spread of the disease -- and that more emphasis should
be placed on face-to-face programmes, such as those in clinics and youth centres.
However, the South African National HIV Prevalence, HIV Incidence, Behaviour
and Communication Survey found that of those who were being reached by the
campaigns, a large proportion saw the information as useful.
The survey also noted that work still needed to be done in reaching rural
areas and informal settlements. As newspapers and television sets are luxuries
in many South African homes, radio remained an important means for communicating
with such audiences.
'loveLife', South Africa's best-funded campaign, receives just under four
million dollars a year from government -- and eight times that from other
sources such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the
Kaiser Foundation: a non-profit group that concentrates on health issues. The
youth are the focus of this initiative.
David Harrison, chief executive officer of loveLife, says the campaign has
tailored its communication strategy to make the most of the magazines, and the
television and radio outlets that are supported by young people.
loveLife produces weekly radio programmes on South Africa's most popular
youth radio stations, for instance, and works with other stations to ensure that
anti-AIDS messages are communicated in all eleven official languages.
About 72 percent of young people aged 15 to 24 are aware of loveLife,
according to the South African National HIV Prevalence, HIV Incidence, Behaviour
and Communication Survey.
However, Makgetla pays this figure scant attention. "It (loveLife) sets
up reference teams of handpicked individuals, rather than engaging with broader
organisations," she says, noting that civil society groups should be among
The advertisements of loveLife can be unclear, Makgetla adds, a criticism
also heard elsewhere.
Angie Dlamini, a teenager from Soweto, says the messages confuse her:
"People in the ads look cool. They don't seem to have anything to do
Geffen agrees, saying of loveLife's messages that they are "too obscure
Government also funds a number of other campaigns, such as 'Soul City', which
uses television and radio dramas to warn people about HIV, (the remaining
initiatives are run by non-governmental organisations).
The South African National HIV Prevalence, HIV Incidence, Behaviour and
Communication Survey notes that awareness of Soul City -- the longest-running
campaign, operating since 1992 -- was the highest across all age groups.
"No campaign or programme has exclusive reach into any particular
audience and there is clearly a high degree of overlap," the report said.
On World Aids Day (Dec. 1) a campaign of a different sort was launched,
backed by trendy radio station Metro FM. Flighted on television and in newspaper
advertisements, the campaign uses reverse psychology.
"Don't use a condom -- increase your chance of contracting
HIV/AIDS," it states, while presenting real people who are HIV-positive to
make the point about how dangerous unprotected sex can be.
* The 'South African National HIV Prevalence, HIV Incidence, Behaviour and
Communication Survey' was commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
* For a free download of the survey, go to: www.hsrcpress.ac.za