By Unathi Jobela-
Despite a perception of audience fatigue, there are still many unreported HIV and AIDS stories, International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) HIV and AIDS Investigative Reporting fellows heard recently.
The journalists were attending the final training workshop of the year-long fellowship – which includes training, mentoring and field trips. As part of the session, fellows were taken to the Thembalethu Clinic at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg and The New Start Circumcision Clinic in Tsakane, Erkuleleni – during the final training workshop of the year-long fellowship in September.
Thembalethu Clinic, which offers comprehensive HIV care including TB integrated services, serves patients across the Gauteng Province and beyond because of its reputation for high quality care, explained site manager Dr Itumeleng Motloung.
The clinic started with few patients in 2004 and today serves more than 2 400 current patients, said Dr Motloung. In addition, it offered free medical male circumcision including counseling, HIV testing and a high quality circumcision surgery.
During the subsequent circumcision ward tour, Nontlantla Dube, a team leader at the Male Medical Circumcision (MMC) counselling office, outlined the clinic work, the procedures followed and the various stages of healing.
Fellows were then taken to the New Start Male Circumcision Clinic in Tsakane where they were welcomed by site manager Millicent Mkantsi who told fellows that the clinic opened in March 2012 to offer medical circumcision as distinct from traditional circumcision.
“Traditional circumcision sometimes partially removes the foreskin and may not offer the same protection as medical circumcision,” said Doctor Kabasi Mokoto, who noted that the clinic was one of the few research sites for the Prepex – a non-surgical adult circumcision device currently being tested – which was proving popular among patients.
Two fellows were then able to observe a circumcision and this sparked an online discussion about the presence of women during such a culturally sensitive procedure.
This issue was picked up during the second day of the fellowship programme when Mail & Guardian Bhekisisa http://mg.co.za/section/news-health health editor Mia Malan spoken on “Innovative coverage of HIV and AIDS”.
Presenting the list of top online stories for the newspaper, Malan noted that it disproved the notion that readers did not want indepth storytelling or a focus on issues such as HIV. She noted a number of top stories that dealt indepth with the issue. It was important, she noted, that reporters found the human impact of the story rather than report it as an “AIDS” issue.
In addition, Malan noted that reporters needed to be able to do multi-platform storytelling. “Even if you are a print reporter, you cannot tell the story in only one medium. You need to be able to tell multimedia stories,” she added.
Complexity of the HIV story
The issue of under-reported stories was raised again during a panel discussion on HIV challenges in the health sector. Panellists Savera Kalideen http://www.soulcity.org.za/projects/phuza-wize, Jeffrey Misomali http://www.clintonfoundation.org/our-work/clinton-health-access-initiative and Umunyana Rugege http://www.section27.org.za/ (Section 27) all urged the reporters to seek HIV stories that recognised the complexity of dealing with the issue in the health sector.
Misomali noted that the challenges of universal treatment often impacted at health system levels where clinics were often under-equipped to deal with them.
He noted that since the reduction in the cost of antiretroviral treatment drugs in the early 2000’s, countries across the research have scaled up efforts to provide treatment to as many people as possible. However, procuring the ARTs was one thing – being able to get the treatment to clinics across the region and into the hands of patients was another.
“New patients access HIV treatment and care services within a stretched and ailing health system which often cannot cope with the increased numbers of patients,” he noted.
In her presentation, Soul City advocacy manager Savera Kalideen outlined the relationship between alcohol and the spread of HIV. She noted that not only did alcohol abuse increase risky behaviour but that it also impacted on the ability to sustain treatment.
Kalideen also provided case studies of the link between alcohol and violence against women and urged reporters to include a wider range of stories in their storytelling.
Section 27 attorney Umunyana Rugege pointed to the organisation’s recent findings on the Eastern Cape health system to challenge reporters to follow-up on delivery in the health sector with stories on the allocation and use of funds in the sector.
The fellowship has constantly challenge fellows to relook at how HIV stories are told. The 2013 cohort includes 10 fellows. They are: The fellows were: Katharine Child (The Times); Thabisa Dyala (SABC Channel Africa); Hasina Gori (SABC Digital News); Amy Green (Mail & Guardian); Lungi Langa (Isolezwe); Nompumelelo Madlala (Daily News); Biopelo Cynthia Mere (NC Express News); Vuyo Mkize (The Star); Yanga Soji (Daily Sun); and, Siphosethu Stuurman (SABC Online/ Radio).
“The fellowship has had a huge positive impact in terms of my thinking about HIV related issues and how to report them,” said Mkhize.
“It has made me more aware of many untold HIV stories,” added Stuurman.
For more information on the fellowship and fellows go to http://iwmf.org/