Conversation-provoking HIV/AIDS campaigns may be counter-productive

October 13, 2015, Tilburg University
Conversation-provoking HIV/AIDS campaigns may be counter-productive

Mass media campaigns aimed to make adolescents in South Africa talk about issues related to HIV/AIDS may be counter-productive.

Research by Elizabeth Lubinga (PhD candidate Tilburg University/ University of Groningen, the Netherlands) shows that billboard campaigns that present deliberately puzzling messages about (un)safe sex, intended to spark conversations between people, lead to a lower rather than a higher understanding of the message which could possibly be dangerous.

Over the last two decades the majority of South Africans have been exposed to billboard or poster advertisements produced by the national or provincial governments and/or NGOs with visibility along road networks, in hospitals and clinics, at schools, transport hubs and many other strategic places. Still, with over 6 million people infected and living with HIV (17.9 percent), South Africa has one of the largest shares of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The Department of Health in South-Africa reports 1,000 new infections daily. Moreover, despite a lot of HIV research and campaigns, the South African Human Sciences Research Council reports problems such as a decline in HIV/AIDS knowledge, a low rate of condom use in monogamous relationships and HIV-related risk behavior.

Puzzling health campaigns

In this dire context, Elizabeth Lubinga set out to study the strategies used in mass media campaigns to make adolescents in South Africa talk about issues related to HIV/AIDS. Lubinga: "A variety of communicative strategies have been devised by organizations in an attempt to come up with the most effective communication tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS." One of the biggest South African health promotion organizations, loveLife, for years has used a campaign strategy aimed at provoking discussions by using posters with deliberately puzzling messages, both in images and/or verbal metaphors. Lubinga wanted to test whether it is correct to assume that such campaigns will automatically trigger interpersonal discussions, especially since it is a taboo in most South African cultures to talk about sexually related matters.

No discussion

Drawing on earlier empirical studies into the effects of 'puzzling' promotional material on conversations and campaign outcomes, Lubinga designed HIV and AIDS prevention posters in which she manipulated puzzling text and/or pictures, and she used these posters to interview participants from the target group. One of the posters was also used to study the conversation behavior of the participants. Lubinga: "Using rhetorical figures proved not to automatically result in adolescents talking about health campaign messages with friends or family. In addition, the results show that when young South Africans do talk about puzzling messages, this led to a lower rather than a higher understanding of the message and resulted in more misunderstandings about HIV/AIDS."

Campaigners should reconsider their strategiesLubinga's findings have implications for health campaign designers who advocate for the use of puzzling messages to provoke conversations with the intention of positively Influencing (determinants of) health behavior. "Given the fact that these messages may even create more misunderstanding about the topics they address, using puzzling messages "may even be dangerous", says Lubinga. "With the current infection rates and the great vulnerability of adolescents, I urge campaign organizations who use these puzzling tactics in South Africa to reconsider their strategies. More research is definitely needed in this field to help designers of mass media health campaigns to create messages that their audience finds interesting enough to discuss, but which do not lead to misunderstanding and undesirable beliefs."

Explore further: A quarter of SAfrica's HIV carriers are young women

Related Stories

A quarter of SAfrica's HIV carriers are young women

December 1, 2014
About one quarter of South Africans newly infected by HIV are girls and women between the ages of 15 and 24, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said Monday.

HIV/AIDS patients in Deep South have lower survival rates

January 14, 2015
The southern U.S. had the nation's lowest five-year survival rate among those diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in 2003-2004, according to new research.

One in 10 South Africans HIV positive

May 14, 2013
One in ten South Africans is HIV positive but AIDS-related deaths are falling as ramped-up treatment begins to have an impact, the country's official statistics agency said Tuesday.

UN: HIV patients should start treatment immediately

September 30, 2015
The World Health Organization has revised its HIV guidelines to recommend that anyone who tests positive for the virus that causes AIDS should be treated immediately.

AIDS infections down by a third in S.Africa: UNAIDS

January 17, 2014
New cases of HIV and AIDS fell sharply in South Africa since ten years ago, a testimony to successful treatment, according to a report by the UN Aids body released Friday.

Health groups say AIDS No. 1 killer of adolescents in Africa

February 17, 2015
The 16-year-old Kenyan girl found out she was HIV-positive and pregnant at a clinic in the Korogocho slums two years ago. She still isn't sure how she contracted the virus—her mother died from AIDS-related complications ...

Recommended for you

Researchers find new way to defeat HIV latency

March 8, 2018
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has a secret life. Though anti-retroviral therapy can reduce its numbers, the virus can hide and avoid both treatments and the body's immune response.

Broadly neutralizing antibody treatment may target viral reservoir in monkeys

March 5, 2018
After receiving a course of antiretroviral therapy for their HIV-like infection, approximately half of a group of monkeys infused with a broadly neutralizing antibody to HIV combined with an immune stimulatory compound suppressed ...

HIV begins to yield secrets of how it hides in cells

March 2, 2018
UC San Francisco scientists have uncovered new mechanisms by which HIV hides in infected cells, resting in a latent state that evades the body's immune system and prevents antiviral drugs from flushing it out.

HIV exports viral protein in cellular packages

February 15, 2018
HIV may be able to affect cells it can't directly infect by packaging a key protein within the host's cellular mail and sending it out into the body, according to a new study out of a University of North Carolina Lineberger ...

Can gene therapy be harnessed to fight the AIDS virus?

February 13, 2018
For more than a decade, the strongest AIDS drugs could not fully control Matt Chappell's HIV infection. Now his body controls it by itself, and researchers are trying to perfect the gene editing that made this possible.

Big data methods applied to the fitness landscape of the HIV envelope protein

February 7, 2018
Despite significant advances in medicine, there is still no effective vaccine for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), although recent hope has emerged through the discovery of antibodies capable of neutralizing diverse ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.