The National Forum on AIDS 1999 took place from 21 – 23 April 1999 in Petionville, Haiti. This event, with a participation of more than 100 persons, was organized by Plan Haiti, the Panos Institute and the Foundation “Promoteurs de l’Objectif ZéroSIDA (POZ)”, under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) and several other institutions working on AIDS prevention.
The Forum aimed to encourage solidarity with people living with AIDS and once again to ring the alarm on the disease. AIDS has remained an epidemic with a hidden face. The gathering allowed for a rediscovery of the disease, and was a place where infected and affected people could reconnect as human beings in their own right. One of the main points of the forum was to give space during its entire programme to men and women with AIDS. They could, without feeling any fear, declare their seropositive status. There were many moments full of emotion.
An exhibition was held in connection to the Forum. This demonstrated materials of many groups working on the prevention of the disease.
The Forum was prepared and planned by POZ, the Panos Institute and Plan Haiti. The Foundation “Promoteurs de l’Objectif ZéroSIDA (POZ)” is a Haitian non-governmental organization that is actively involved in the prevention of HIV/AIDS in the country since three years. POZ came about as a result of the closure of the former AIDSCAP programme funded by USAID. POZ is currently involved in a countrywide HIV/AIDS prevention programme in partnership with Plan Haiti. This programme is carried out in three of the nine departments of the country.
Plan is an international humanitarian organization, focusing on the development of children, without religious, political or governmental affiliation. Child sponsorship is the basic foundation of the organisation. Plan provides support in the following domains: Learning, Health, Livelihood, Habitat and Promoting Cultural Exchange.
Since some time, the Panos Institute had planned to organize in Haiti a regional conference on AIDS for the mass media, in collaboration with Info-Services and the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) of Jamaica. This activity was part of a joint project, financed by the Netherlands Government for the period February 1997 – January 1999. However, the conference could not take place during the original project implementation, and the Netherlands Government did not approve an extension of the project duration, to cover the period in which this conference was planned to take place. Nevertheless, Panos has as much as possible provided its technical and financial support to those forum activities within its field of work.
The rapid spread of HIV in Haiti has resulted in the highest general infection rate of the Western Hemisphere, rates which have been estimated at 10% among adults in urban areas, and as high as 16% in some of the poorest urban areas. Because the rural zones have a lower infection rate (4-5%) then the cities, the national average is calculated to be between 5.1 and 7.3% (all 1998 figures).
There is therefore a huge and growing population of People Living With AIDS in Haiti. From an estimated 12,000 cases in 1987, the number is now around 300,000 with between 28 and 40,000 new cases per year. By 2005 almost half a million persons will be infected.
The seriousness of the AIDS epidemic is aggravated by a number of factors, including a very weak health infrastructure already struggling to provide preventive and simple curative services to the general population. For example, fewer than 30% of children receive the basic protocol of childhood vaccinations despite the fact that the required vaccines are often provided free of charge. It is clear that adequate treatment of individuals with HIV/AIDS will not be possible within the existing health infrastructure.
The major efforts of AIDS service organizations are correctly focused on preventing the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as the treatment of STDs. Yet even the resources allocated to these activities have been reduced drastically in recent years. It is estimated that current expenditures in Haiti on AIDS prevention activities are only 10% of the level of the early 1990s: from 1990-1995 over 2.5 million US$ was allocated annually to AIDS specific projects. Since 1996 only about US$200-250,000 is available to carry out AIDS prevention activities.
So far, little attention has been given to People Living With AIDS and their needs. The same holds for devising appropriate response strategies. It is apparent that multiple and innovative approaches are going to be needed in the country.
Public awareness on the disease is still very low and the mass media are vital in highlighting its seriousness. However, they are hardly ever involved in the struggle against the realities of AIDS. The media suffer from the general underdevelopment and systematic degradation of institutions as experienced in the wider Haitian society, starting with a very weak educational system. In Haiti, few working journalists receive any formal training prior to entering their profession. Generally speaking, the Haitian press is geared towards providing information on the (very current) political events going on, but lacks an active role with analysis, constructive criticism and education.
The lack of in-depth features and analysis results in a near absence of HIV/AIDS coverage. From 1994 to 1998 there were about 40 articles on the issue in the main Haitian newspaper, le Nouvelliste. The majority of these articles were not written by journalists, but by medical personnel, researchers, immunologists or common citizens. The media tend to restrict coverage on AIDS/HIV to the 1st of December (World AIDS Day) or when there is a conference on the subject. In Haiti, there is no written or audio series dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and information, besides commercials for the use of condoms.
In the English-speaking Caribbean, with increasing competition of radio, one can notice a shift in the style of broadcasting, away from public service and news programming to entertainment, music and advertising. The emphasis of news programmes has also shifted from an international to a local perspective. However, phone-in/talk radio is growing with a broader range of discussion of sensitive issues – both political and sexual, and public service announcements (PSAs) on health and other issues are broadcast frequently. These are sometimes generated by the stations themselves but more often by agencies, such as the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) and the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC).
In a 1997 Panos survey on HIV/AIDS radio coverage, the majority of stations in the Caribbean region stated that HIV/AIDS issues are mentioned 1 to 3 times per week, and sometimes as often as once per day. The format in which the coverage is likeliest to appear remained news, talk, and PSAs, versus drama, music and phone-in shows. The most prevalent source was station-generated news and PSAs, followed by PSAs from other sources and station-generated music, drama and talk shows. The most common time allotted to HIV/AIDS coverage was 2 to 5 minutes followed by under one minute. By far the aspect covered the most is prevention; foreign news on AIDS is a distant second.
There are many organizations working on HIV/AIDS prevention and involved in information and awareness campaigns. They could and should involve the media better and provide them with pertinent information to be broadcast to the general public. In Haiti, the reach and diversity of media has widened tremendously in recent years, with the establishment of a multitude of audiovisual media. The directory of Info-Services of early 1997 reports a total of 132 radio stations, 23 TV stations and 51 print publications. The explosion hasn’t stop there and it is estimated that today Haiti has nearly 300 radio stations.
In collaboration with various institutional partners, Panos has organized a great number of activities to promote the responsible reporting on HIV/AIDS issues. In addition to training journalists, a wealth of authoritative information has been produced and disseminated through books, radio magazines and features, print articles and special reports. Mutual support, peer-mentoring and networking among reporters has also been facilitated by Panos.
The media seminars and workshops on HIV/AIDS issues convened by Panos in the Caribbean and Central American region during recent years include:
The objectives of the media component of the Forum were the following:
The media team during the forum consisted of the following persons.
Barbara Jacobs-Small, Director of Radio St. Lucia, participated as speaker on regional media issues and as facilitator of the media workshop. She was actively involved in the Panos/Radio St. Lucia media meetings on HIV/AIDS in June 1997 and as such has ample experience in related media issues in the Caribbean.
Nancy Roc, journalist with TéléEclair, moderated one of panels of the forum. Additionally she drafted the recommendations of the media workshop. A journalist of Radio Vision 2000, Léontès Dorzilmé. spoke in the plenary on media and HIV/AIDS issues in Haiti.
Jean Claude Louis, consultant with the Panos Institute took charge of the public relations of the forum. He also assisted in the press service, in particular maintaining contacts with journalists and taking care of the distribution of releases. He further managed the exhibition and prepared the guidelines and context for the media workshop.
Ronald Colbert, free-lance journalist, was the Chief of the press service, and produced 5 press releases and articles during and immediately after the event. These products are included in this report. Fritznel Octave, journalist, produced also an article and assisted the press service in the recording of the event. Further, Ives Marie Chanel of Inter-Press Service and former Coordinator of a Panos/Info-Services/CARIMAC regional project, helped with the dissemination of the releases through the IPS structure. Finally, Jan Voordouw, Coordinator Caribbean and Central America of the Panos Institute, although not being able to participate in the forum itself, was instrumental during the preparation and organization of the event.
Activities developed and their results
The participation of the Panos Institute was essential in the running of the forum. The particular responsibilities included the following activities:
Analysis, conclusions and recommendations
The forum benefitted from a large coverage by the media. Many journalists from a variety of media turned up to cover the event. They were enormously facilitated in their work by the regular press releases which were produced by the Panos Press Service. Through this service, a journalist could get all the basic information on the forum, quickly understand the development of its deliberations and preliminary conclusions, and receive assistance with the setting up of interviews.
The forum got particularly good coverage on the radio. It is clear that many media have a sincere interest in reporting more and better on HIV/AIDS issues and that assistance is highly appreciated. One of the objectives of the forum was to sensitize the public and raise their understanding on the extent of the disease, and social, cultural as well as economic impacts. Because of the broad media coverage, we believe that important steps in this direction have been made.
It should be noted that, in terms of news worthiness, unfortunately the forum had to compete with a high level of political unrest. There were several manifestations and riots on the streets during the three days of the forum, demanding the attention of the media. Many journalists were obliged to be at several fronts at one time and only fifteen journalists were able to stay and fully participate throughout the forum.
The press service suffered also from the absence of a telephone line. This major logistical hindrance significantly slowed down the dissemination of press releases, since these had to be e-mailed and faxed from external places instead of straight from the conference.
As is a common problem in events like this, media managers were absent. It remains very hard to demonstrate to media managers that it would be in their advantage to play an active part in the country’s development and ease social tensions, such as those relating to HIV/AIDS.
The media workers that stayed participated actively, displayed a lot of enthusiasm and made the workshop on the media a success. This workshop clearly defined the role of the media in changing attitudes and behaviour regarding avoiding risky sexual behaviour and combating the taboos surrounding people living with AIDS. A start was made with the debate between journalists, resource persons on HIV/AIDS and people affected and infected by AIDS. In this regard, it was reiterated that sources of information and distribution channels need to collaborate closely in order to achieve maximum results.
It was further stated that the media should provide more space to HIV/AIDS issues, locally generate programmes and enable people living with AIDS to express themselves. The creation of a media/communication centre was advocated, as well as specialized training for journalists, the establishment of a network of journalists and information seminars for media managers. See also the report of the workshop.
There were about 15 representatives from the Caribbean region, mainly from organizations combating AIDS and assisting seropositive people in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Yolanda Simon from Trinidad and Tobago, well-known from Panos events in the past, participated also as representative of the regional association of people living with AIDS. However, because Panos’ funding for the conference had been cut, only one Caribbean speaker/participant (Barbara Jacobs-Small of Radio St. Lucia) represented the media. Her role was vital to underline the potential for regional collaboration and mutual assistance among media.
Because of the low regional participation, it will be very important to communicate the results of the forum to the media, agencies and NGOs of the region.
Panos was able to present a balanced package of materials, which media as well as NGOs used and can further use as baseline materials for producing local information. The materials are included in section 4 of the French version of this report. The positive role of these materials in the follow-up to the forum has become exceedingly clear. At the time of writing this report (July 1999) we continue to receive reactions and feedback on them.
In view of the fact that the forum was a first event of this type in Haiti, we should recognize it as a total success. Having this forum demonstrated the resolve of the civil society and the Government of Haiti to attack the scourge of AIDS in a united fashion; its repercussions are not just awaited. All the target groups were there, very strong testimonies were made and also the other interventions were of high quality. The forum has already started to generate a number of spin-off activities. Many lessons have been learned, and a wealth of tips and recommendations have been provided by participants, to take into account for the future.
The cooperation between the three institutions that were involved in the organization of the forum worked well and provides an excellent basis for follow-up. An evaluation session, convened by POZ on 5 May 1999, and attended by all the organizing and sponsoring institutions, identified a continued strong media programme as a priority for follow-up, including the collection of oral testimonies from people living with HIV/AIDS, training of journalists, a special activity to attract media managers and continued linkages with media in the Caribbean region. It was emphasized that these and other follow-up activities should be targeted to community media in the provinces as well.
Report of workshop V: “Involvement of the media in the battle against STD/AIDS”
I. ROLE OF THE MEDIA
Establish a centre of communication with selected journalists who could benefit from linkages with all concerned agencies, like the international organizations and private sector. This communication centre could also be expanded to a more general centre combating STD/AIDS, with journalists, researchers, doctors, etc.
Materials distributed by the Panos Institute
The following materials were distributed by Panos during the Forum: