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Over the weekend, social media went into a tizzy when netizens posted an human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) information material that was inaccurate and used discriminatory language.
Okay, hang on.
This column is not meant to lambast erring groups or belabor the issue. But it is hoped that this column will continue the conversation by turning this mishap into an opportunity to educate one another on how to properly develop effective HIV and AIDS information materials.
Let us all do our part in creating a citizenry that is well-informed, sensitive to the issue of HIV and AIDS and united in preventing the spread of the virus while protecting the rights and dignity of vulnerable groups and those who are living with HIV.
Together with the Department of Health, we came up with this list of 5 simple questions that you can use to test and screen your information material.
1. Is the information accurate?
It may seem like we are stating the obvious but previous experience shows us that that is not always the case.
The material in question over the weekend stated that HIV could be avoided if you “avoid having sex with a homosexual”.
This is the same as saying that gay sex drives HIV which is not true for two reasons: One, it is unprotected anal sex that increases the probability of HIV infection and two, anal sex is not limited to male on male sex. Heterosexual couples also have anal sex.
Here’s our column from 2013 that explains the risk level of HIV transmission from different types of unprotected sex.
Being accurate goes back to checking your sources. The Department of Health Epidemiology Center is in charge of tracking HIV incidence and prevalence in the country and is the official source of HIV and AIDS statistics.
Every month, the DOH EpiCenter releases the HARP Report or the “HIV/AIDS and ART (Anti-Retroviral Therapy) Registry Report”.
The report provides a detailed snapshot of the state of HIV in the Philippines. It contains an overview of the number of newly diagnosed cases for the month covered and provides a timeline (in the form of a graph) of the total number of recorded HIV infections in the country since 1984. Trends and reports on special interest groups such as adolescents are also part of the monthly report.
The report also has an appendix that lists the DOH accredited treatment hubs and satellite clinics around the country.
To subscribe to the DOH mailing list and have a copy of the report emailed to you every month, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The monthly HAPR reports, as well as special HIV reports done by the DOH, may also be found on the DOH EpiCenter Facebook.
Other sources include:
- UNAIDS for reports on how countries and the world is (or isn’t) making progress on eliminating HIV
- This page has some really interesting infographics on different aspects of HIV
- The Center for Disease Control HIV/AIDS website for information on HIV laws, policy and research.
- The World Health Organization Media Center for fact sheets and a compilation of HIV publications
2. Does it use non-discriminatory language?
For example, we should not say, “AIDS carrier” but instead say “Person Living with HIV”. The latter reflects how advancements like anti-retroviral therapy can help those with HIV continue to live a healthy productive life.
3. What is your objective? Does the material meet that objective?
What do you want people to do once they read the material?
If it is to inform, challenge yourself to move beyond simply letting people know about certain facts to correcting misconceptions and inaccuracies.
“We are at the day and age where a lot of people know a lot of things about HIV, but there are a lot of things people still don’t know,” said Dr. Genesis Samonte, head of the DOH Epidemiology Center.
Samonte takes as an example an informational material that lists the bodily fluids where HIV can be transmitted: blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk.
“You can go further by explaining that HIV cannot be transmitted by kissing, hugging or mosquito bites. Then you not only inform but also correct common misconceptions,” said Samonte.
If your material is a call to action to get an HIV test, anticipate that the questions in your readers’ minds will be: where? and how?
Answer these questions in the same material by listing the address of your clinic or testing center, contact number, and clinic hours. Samonte suggests even adding a small photo of the clinic so that it is much easier for people to locate. This is most helpful for clinics that are not located along main roads and have small signages.
4. Is it relevant to your specific target audience?
HIV affects everyone but it disproportionately affects men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender women and young girls.
Each group will have a different demographic profile and mindset.
To engage your target audience and make your message stick, think about who your target audience is. Get to know them, what worries them and what their language is.
These UNAIDS infographics provide a good starting point for getting to know the concerns of different groups. This infographic, for example, focuses on the concerns of prisoners.
5. What does your target audience think of it?
Before posting or printing, show your material to a sample audience and ask them what they understood by it and then cross check against your communication objective.
Make sure you include in your testing audience a subject matter expert and someone from the target audience. If your audience is meant for teens, ensure that a teenaged boy and girl are among those in your screening group. If the material is meant for the transwomen community, make sure you include a transwoman.
Social media makes testing easy. Just upload the material on Facebook, select the people who can see it and ask them to comment on it.
Before releasing your material, cross check it against these 5 questions. It will take a little bit more time and effort on your part, but by ensuring that information materials are accurate, sensitive and relevant, we help in lessening stigma and can effectively contribute to stopping the spread of HIV. – Rappler.com