Botswana: Hearts and Minds: A New Approach to Reporting on HIV/AIDS in Botswana and throughout Africa (January 2010)


The Botswana-based Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) is working with the Zambia Institute of Mass Communication Educational Trust (ZAMCOM) and the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications to implement the "Hearts and Minds" campaign.

This campaign is designed to improve public access to timely, high-quality information on HIV/ AIDS by strengthening mass media reporting on the epidemic. The innovative partnership is managed by the HIV/AIDS Twinning Center with support from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

"HIV and AIDS is continually evolving, affecting society in new ways. As a result, the media must become proactive and devise new ways to talk about the pandemic to help society fight it," said MISA Botswana National Director Thapelo Ndlovu. "Stigma is making people shy away from life-saving facilities and services. People hide their HIV status and live in denial because of the shame that would come if others knew they were living with the virus. This, and a whole host of other problems, represents just some of the challenges we face as a society."

The goal of the campaign is to improve the quality of HIV/AIDS reporting in Africa. To accomplish this, partners are working to motivate reporters, while at the same time engaging a broad range of non-governmental organizations, community and faith-based organizations, and international development agencies in a concerted effort to change the way people receive and react to information about HIV/AIDS. This includes providing training workshops for media professionals, as well as classes on how to effectively engage with journalists for other stakeholders.

Mwiika Malindima, a lecturer and HIV/AIDS and Gender Media Specialist at ZAMCOM, agreed with Ndlovu, and explained that the media has a huge role to play in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

"HIV and AIDS has been a presence in Africa for more than 25 years now and there is ever-increasing media fatigue in dealing with news related to the epidemic," Malindima said. "Reporters and editors feel there is nothing more to say about it, but this is at odds with the magnitude of the pandemic's impact on society, not to mention advances in medical treatment, which represent a source of exciting new material for journalists and hope for people living with HIV."

Beth Barnes, director of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications concurred and noted that the media is needed to alter people's view of people living with HIV/AIDS.

"The Hearts and Minds Campaign is really all about changing people's perceptions, or hearts, by putting a human face on HIV by encouraging people living with the virus to share their stories. At the same time, there is still the need to provide accurate information to help overcome prevailing misconceptions and change people's mindset about HIV and AIDS. This combination of human-based informative reporting is a primary focus of Hearts and Minds."

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