Promoting Public Awareness of HIV/AIDS in Africa: Follow-Up to a Pilot Study

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The HIV//AIDS pandemic has been among the most serious natural disasters in recent centuries. Adeyi, et al. (2006) remark that, "in the worst affected regions, notably Sub-Saharan Africa, this steadily progressing catastrophe threatens to become a calamity of cataclysmic proportions." The author conducted a pilot study between 1990-1996 on public awareness of HIV/AIDS through two newspapers that were widely read in Nigeria (Komolafe 1999). The study revealed that with increase in frequency of reports, newspapers could be used as one of the many tools to educate the Nigerian populace.

In the past ten years after the pilot study, several million people worldwide have been infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the causative agent of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Keating, et al. (2006) observe that, "HIV/AIDS is a serious concern in Nigeria today because the estimated annual deaths as a result of the disease have increased from 50,000 in 1999 to over 350,000 in 2004."

According to Chikonzo (2005), Sub-Saharan Africa is the region of the world most affected by HIV/AIDS. An estimated 25.4 million people are living with the disease and approximately 3.1 million new infections occurred in 2004. By 2005, the epidemic had claimed the lives of an estimated 2.5 million people in the region, with more than 2 million children under the age of fifteen living with HIV and more than 12 million children orphaned by AIDS.

Komolafe (1999) reported the findings of Piot, Kapita, and Nguigi (1999) that about half the number of infected people die within 5-10 years and that HIV has become endemic in parts of Africe, while the estimated number of those affected ranges in the millions. The authors asserted that in many parts of Africa, HIV has become a major public health problem of the same magnitude as malaria, diarrhoea, and malnutrition.

The Nigerian HIV/AIDS situation is no better than in most African countries ravaged by the disease. The problem is compounded by the large population. In the pilot study, it was reported that out of the 20 million HIV cases in the world in December 1995, 11 million (35.5%) were from Sub-Saharan Africa, and 4.8 million (5.2%) Nigerians had tested positive for HIV (Komolafe 1999). As of January 1996, it was assumed that the reason for the staggering number of infected people was the lack of commitment from the Nigerian military leadership (Jimoh 2002). By 1999, when the military rule gave way for democratic rule in Nigeria, hopes were high for a better health care system, and a well-funded public health sector with positive impact on the scourge of HIV/AIDS through public education. By 2003, the virus had infected approximately 5% of the adult population; an estimated 4-6 million Nigerians were carrying the virus. The National Intelligence Council (NIC) identified Nigeria amongst the five countries that could be worst hit by the epidemic. A projected 10-15 million Nigerians, especially youth, or about 25% of the adult population, would be affected by the virus without aggressive intervention.

There have not been many research studies done to evaluate the effectiveness of the print media in awareness campaign against HIV/AIDS, in Nigeria or globally. Tran et. al, looks in depth at newspapers reporting on HIV/AIDS in Vietnam, finding that newspaper reports pay little attention to People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWA) (3.9%) and that the highest percentage (49%) focus on HIV/AIDS programs. In Nigeria, Adesomoye (2002) corroborates Komolafe's (1999) findings that coverage of the disease is minimal with inadequacy in the coverage that does exist.

Isibor and Ajuwon (2004), in their study on journalists' knowledge of AIDS and attitude toward people living with HIV, found a number of misconceptions amongst journalists concerning the disease, while a high percentage of them (65%) had never written any report on HIV/AIDS-related issues. …