This 23-slide presentation was offered by the Southern Africa HIV/AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS), a regional organisation based in Harare, Zimbabwe, at a December 2005 meeting of The Communication Initiative (CI)'s Partners, who gather annually to guide the strategic direction of the organisation. The second day of the 2005 meeting featured a number of presentations from CI Partners on the theme of "measuring communication impact" (click here for additional background, and to access all the presentations from that meeting).
This particular presentation begins by providing context in the form of statistics on HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa (from the UNAIDS: The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS). SAfAIDS claims that, though a lot of HIV and AIDS information on prevention, care and treatment exists, there is still a significant gap in who receives it and how it is used. For example, according to UNAIDS (2005), 1 in 4 respondents in Botswana did not know that consistent condom use prevents transmission, and only 13% knew 3 or more ways of preventing sexual transmission of the virus. In this context, SAfAIDS was launched in 1994 to promote dialogue and mobilise social action within communities of practice in order to scale up the regional HIV/AIDS response through information and communication.
In an effort to respond to the challenges that community-based organisations (CBOs) in the region face in addressing the HIV/AIDS knowledge gap (e.g., limited access to media and/or lack of internet connectivity in rural communities), SAfAIDS has pursued several strategies - among them, the production of a printed publication. Specifically, in collaboration with the Family AIDS Caring Trust (FACT) and Healthlink, the organisation produced 12 issues in total of a quarterly publication - Southern Africa HIV/AIDS Action - in an effort to document and share CBO experiences in clear, concise and simplified langauge. Featuring practical tips for developing community-based strategies, it was more of a "how-to" (a tool, a guide) than a newsletter. Bullet-point lists, diagrams, and pictures were used frequently. Recognising the gap in Portuguese materials, SAfAIDS launched a version in that language in December 2003, publishing 5 issues of Accao HIV/AIDS na Africa Austral. Communication themes featured prominently in the thematic issues of both language versions of the publication, such as one focused on theatre for development in the context of HIV/AIDS.
An external evaluation, drawing on qualitative methods such as focus group discussions (FGDs) and both formal and informal interviews, was conducted to explore the impact of the publication on the intended audience. Results are shared here. For example, participants reported using the publication: in the development of programmes, as reference materials, for articles and presentations, to develop materials for distribution, for advocacy, and to get ideas and learn what others are doing. They emphasised the need for more photos and diagrams, and stressed their appreciation for the simplified definitions (simplicity of language meant that some organisations - e.g., in Zambia and Zimbabwe - translated articles into local languages). Many encouraged the establishment of an editorial team to select themes with greater involvement of CBOs. Several organisations emphasised that they would like to be featured in newsletter - to submit information - and mentioned the need for capacity building in documentation of good practices. They requested more follow-up contact information so that they could connect with the organisations and individuals highlighted in the articles.
In conclusion, the presentation stresses the importance of materials like the one evaluated here for filling an information gap, as well as building the capacity of CBOs and supporting their initiatives and interactions. SAfAIDS plans to continue to work toward involving the community (and CBOs) in developing content for its publications. The organisation stresses the need to advocate for greater funding to effectively develop and evaluate these kinds of communication initiatives.