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Miscommunication, lack of education help spread AIDS in Africa

BYU's Allen Palmer researched plague during Fulbright in Namibia

Fulbright scholar Allen Palmer of the Brigham Young University Department of Communications concluded during his study in Namibia this year that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a result of miscommunication and lack of education.

Palmer found three main reasons for the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus: lack of news coverage, low level of education and little understanding of HIV/AIDS.

"Part of my project involves news coverage of HIV/AIDS problems, or rather, the lack of news coverage in most news media," Palmer said. "Unless local government officials take ownership of the problem and deliver policy speeches against HIV/AIDS, there is little evidence of the epidemic in headlines."

Namibians may be aware of the AIDS virus but that doesn't mean they understand how it is contracted or how to prevent it from spreading. Since it sometimes takes 10 years for HIV/AIDS symptoms to appear, many have a hard time linking the cause and effects of the virus, Palmer said.

"Some people are inclined to visit tribal healers for preventions and cures of the disease," Palmer said. "They also engage in some traditional sexual practices that guarantee the spread of HIV/AIDS."

While there Palmer also developed some solutions to provide better communication among the people.

As part of one solution he encourages the news media to write about people who are living with AIDS and those who are successfully dealing with the virus. The Namibians should also indicate AIDS as the cause of death on death notices instead of remaining silent.

Palmer realized the need for Namibian youth to be trained in the media so they can speak to one another and teach each other about the virus through the media.

Another solution would be for the national broadcasting service of Namibia to place more importance on HIV/AIDS programming. Information on HIV/AIDS should be a higher priority in broadcasting.

"In the absence of all others, HIV/AIDS is a problem of understanding and communication. The solution to the problem will ultimately come from those most directly affected, those whose lives are only counted as international statistics," Palmer said. "Every death is a tragedy to those who are affected; every life spared is a success."

Palmer worked closely with the Panos Network, a non-profit organization based in London. Panos concentrates on understanding and educating people about the issues that developing countries face.

He is now writing a book on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa including the research he did while in Namibia.

Writer: Rebekah Hanson

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