Communicate to cure

 
By VIJAYA NIDADAVOLU
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- Combating AIDS: Communications strategies in action by Arvind Singhal and Everett M Rogers Sage Publications 2003 Rs 230

With mounting fears of the hiv/aids virus taking on epidemic propotions, the book under review draws timely attention on the role of communications strategies in addressing health, social and political aspects of hiv/aids. Why certain nations have been successful in controlling aids as opposed to others is a question it tries to answer. It synthesises critical lessons on effective hiv/aids prevention programmes with special emphasis on communication strategies, thereby going beyond a mere study of communications strategies. The material draws upon the authors' visits to Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, Thailand and India.



Exhaustive account

The first four chapters provide an exhaustive account of the various dimensions of dealing with hiv/aids -- the beginnings, responses of individual governments, first champions, strategies that worked, interventions that worked and failed and issues regarding drug regulation. In thus attempting such a broad sweep, the authors stray from the original purpose of providing information on communications strategies. The chapters offer fascinating vignettes but fail to gel, leaving the reader frustrated.

Chapters 5, 7 and 8 focus on those innovative communications strategies in the world that have been radical in content as well as execution. The book offers documentations of media initiatives -- small and large -- in Soul City in South Africa, Malhacao in Brazil, Twende na Wakati from Tanzania, the bbc World Service Trust-Prasar Bharati initiatives in India, Nalamdana -- a theatre initiative in Tamil Nadu -- and others. These reiterate the need for designing communications strategies in conjunction with the intended audience, using local idiom and relevant cultural symbolisms. The book also touches upon Behaviour Change communications theories that have given the field a fragile legitimacy, backing message creation by formative research, ensuring message effectiveness by pre-testing and authenticating, and following up message delivery with evaluation and impact analysis.

The authors quite rightly focus attention on the need for organisations/governments involved in aids research and prevention to ensure that they build in communications components into their programmes and commit realistic budgets to sustain such initiatives. The book provides evidence that communications strategies, implemented effectively, can be a powerful tool in addressing aids, a global malady viewed with suspicion, spoken of in whispers and treated diffidently by individuals, societies and governments.

The author is a communications specialist, Population Council, South and East Asia

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