Findings, No. 6

Alison Dunn, ed.
Publication Date



Healthlink Worldwide


This 9-page paper from Healthlink Worldwide suggests that as access to anti-retroviral therapies (ARTs) improves in developing countries, information and communication about treatment becomes more important. It proposes that with effective communication, communities are better informed about drugs and can improve their understanding of ARTs, why they are needed, and what they can and cannot do. The paper examines the challenges of communicating effectively about ARTs and highlights some of the latest research in this area.



According to the paper, issues around accessing ARTs are complex. They include: collaborating on global funding, ensuring the sustainability and reliability of access to medication, improving support to diagnosis, strengthening health systems, and monitoring adherence and drug resistance. Engaging the public sector through community-based organisations (CBOs) and the private sector through the workplace is also critical to expand coverage and impact of community-based treatment. The report’s author, Alison Dunn, says: “The landscape is complex, and it is easy to overlook the vital role that communication plays, but research shows that information and communication are essential elements to achieving universal access to ARTs.”


The findings paper focuses on the following key points:

  • communication around ARTs is required for an effective and comprehensive response to HIV and AIDS that includes and makes linkages between prevention, treatment, care, and support;
  • treatment literacy leads to improved health outcomes, better adherence to drug regimes, and higher uptake of voluntary counselling and testing services;
  • the process of developing treatment literacy materials is important and should include people living with HIV and AIDS and those taking ART and their guardians and supporters, who can either enable or obstruct adherence;
  • communities need to be prepared to support their members taking ART, which means reducing stigma and discrimination and dispelling myths; and
  • community care and treatment responses should be recognised as an important component of greater access to treatment.



The paper's key points advocate putting people with HIV at the centre of care. By doing so, as stated in here, individuals and their caregivers gain knowledge and skills to manage their health, while myths, fears, and misconceptions about HIV and AIDS are reduced. The paper says that the widely known Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) uses this approach. Its trained practitioners use personal stories and experiences alongside medical and scientific knowledge to increase treatment literacy among people with HIV and their supporters. The paper also says that education and awareness raising in the community have been critical in preparing communities to accept treatment. TAC's range of treatment literacy activities include:


  • using posters, videos, booklets, brochures, or pamphlets and t-shirts;
  • curricula for health care providers, for people on treatment, and for peer educators;
  • support groups and networks of people living with HIV;
  • teaching aids, such as health diaries and calendars, and treatment side effects charts;
  • broadcast media programmes - radio or TV programmes;
  • instructional or participatory materials to guide discussions, role plays, and interactive exercises; and
  • marches and new community branches of TAC.



The report says that the challenge for many local organisations providing effective treatment literacy services is that people must have a basic understanding of HIV before they can understand ART; and, with the expansion of access to ART, information changes fast. The paper argues that, at a community level, the introduction of ART means more than ensuring individuals and families are able to support and care for people taking anti-retroviral drugs. Entire communities with diverse members, some of whom are marginalised or minority groups, should be able to understand HIV and AIDS and what it means to start and adhere to ART. Close work is also required to ensure that environments are not hostile and the different needs of community members are taken into account.


Source website on January 23 2007.