Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Media and HIV/AIDS among youths in Nigeria

Youths are stakeholders in the future of every society. To be able to live up to this responsibility, they must be empowered with basic life skills of which include being media literate. Media literacy is the ability to process information that is reliable and useful to their well-being and the well being of others.
The 21st century youth in Nigeria must have the competent ability to access and interprete messages from various forms of media. It is such literacy that will enable the media effectively permeate the society and positively influence the behaviour of youths around HIV & AIDS.
The factors that place youths at risk of being infected with HIV stem from different socio-economic and cultural conditions they live in such as poverty, poor educations, unemployment, social isolation etc.
Majority of these youths live with the virus and do not know while others do no have access to accurate information on how to protect themselves and others. Often, the subject is treated among youths with suspicion, the little information at their disposal most times turn out to be inaccurate.
People living with HIV face stigma and discrimination as these youths try to deal with their fears about the virus by ridiculing those infected. Others deny the existence of HIV and thus embrace a fearful silence; all these constitute a negative attitude that encourages the spread of HIV among youths.
In the absence of any known scientific cure, to manage the spread of HIV, youth friendly education resources can help create awareness to promote attitude change. Phyllis Kanki, Director, AIDS Preventions Initiative in Nigeria (APIN) in her contribution to the book “HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa” noted that the media have been identified as an important tool in health intervention programmes.
Through the media, the silence, spiral of denial, ignorance, stigma and discrimination associated with HIV & AIDS can be mitigated to promote a positive behavior change among youths.
Recognising the potential of the media in curbing the spread of HIV & AIDS, former Secretary-General of the United Nations once said “…Broadcast media have tremendous reach and influence, particularly on young people, who represent the future and who are the key to any successful fight against HIV & AIDS.
We must seek to engage these powerful organizations as full partners in the fight to halt the pandemic through awareness, prevention and education”.
The media can thus be referred to as a vehicle through which information is disseminated from a source to a heterogeneous audience simultaneously.
The Nigerian media has made impact in curbing the spread of HIV & AIDS in the society through its various information dissemination programmes. News coverage in the local newspapers over the years has been on the increase. Various radio and television drama and talk shows have adapted HIV & AIDS as a theme of discourse. However, these roles are limited to merely raising awareness. According to MC Quail in 1994, it is clear that information acquisition could occur without changes in behavior.
Thus it is not surprising that although the media coverage of HIV & AIDS has raised awareness, yet low knowledge of the preventive and treatment measures has contributed to young people engaging in behaviour that put them at risk of being HIV infected.
The media’s effort in curbing the spread of HIV & AIDS and promoting positive behaviour among youths is often hindered by lack of awareness and misconceptions.
To overcome these limitations, it is important for the media to re-prioritise its primary functions of “to inform”, “to entertain”, “to persuade”, and “to educate”, with greater emphasis on the “to educate” function around HIV & AIDS.
It is a popular saying that education is the vaccine against, thus, media Education can help curb the spread of HIV and promote positive behaviour among Nigerian Youths by raising awareness about preventive and treatment measures and reducing stigma and discrimination.
Through their intervention programmes, negative behaviour among youths, which includes hostility, denial, ignorance, stigmatisation, discrimination etc., will be replaced by positive behaviour such as sympathy, acceptance, accurate knowledge, care and support for people infected and affected by HIV & AIDS. This will facilitate the process for the emergence of a HIV-free youth population for National development.
The modern media such as the internet, television, radio, newspapers, books, etc, as well as traditional media such as murals, folktales, town crier, village square meetings, festivals etc indeed has essential impact in promoting positive behaviour around HIV/AIDS among youths in Nigeria.

Written by Jennifer Ehiadimen
•This is an abridged version of the winning entry of the 1st Omololu Falobi Foundation Essay Competition.

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