The HIV/AIDS pandemic affects every country in the world and its magnitude and the havoc it has caused in Africa cannot be underestimated.
The absence of a cure and a vaccine makes urgent the need to reach the uneducated and mostly rural populations of Africa and Cameroon in particular for prevention of the continuous spread. Mass education through mass communication has long been recognised as the most effective weapon to fight the spread.
This paper seeks to address the enormous challenge of the media in Cameroon in the face of this devastating epidemic and presents a new framework to make HIV/AIDS communication through the media more effective.
Using secondary data from some studies carried out in Cameroon and other African countries, the authors argue that the media in Cameroon must remain at the heart of the campaign to help people make conversant choices since the mass media pose the greatest capacity in creating a conducive environment for change.
The paper concludes that for the media to effectively contribute positively towards the fight against this pandemic, Cameroon media must integrate indigenous media forms into modern media usage.
Keywords: Mass Media Campaigns, HIV/AIDS, Behaviour Change Communication, Interactive Health Columns, Mainstream, Social Change Communication, Awareness Messages.
HIV/AIDs is the worst epidemic humanity has ever faced. It affects every country in the world, but it is in developing countries that it poses the greatest threat. The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan stated that "between 1999 and 2000 more people died of AIDs in Africa than in all the wars on the continent". This statement by Kofi Annan, aptly describes the magnitude and havoc the pandemic is having on the African continent. UNAIDS statistics reveal that Sub-Saharan Africa is the region of the world that is most affected with 3.2 million new infections and 2.4 million out of 3.1 million worldwide deaths from AIDs related illnesses.
According to Tanjong et al. (2003) the first case of HIV/AIDs in Cameroon was reported in 1985. They contend that by 1992, over 526,000 cases had been registered. Similarly, UNAIDS (2003) statistics show that between 1987 and 2002, HIV/AIDs prevalence in Cameroon increased from 0.5% to 12% of the total population of 15 million people. Cameroon faces a daunting reality.
This paper therefore seeks to address the enormous challenge of the media in Cameroon in the face of this devastating epidemic and presents a new framework to make HIV/AIDs communication through the media more effective. It seeks to analyse in a somewhat orderly manner, the challenge of the HIV/AIDs pandemic in Cameroon and the mass media response so far.
Most surveys conducted in Cameroon have cited radio and television as key sources of information about HIV/AIDs and although we do have examples of imaginative and highly successful campaigns, by and large, media coverage of the epidemic has not been sufficient enough.
Therefore, we argue that the media in Cameroon must remain at the heart of the campaign to help people make informed choices because, the mass media poses the greatest capacity in creating a favourable environment for change while community mobilisation and interpersonal reinforcement increase impact of the media messages. In essence, we argue that only a people-oriented media can succeed in fostering an understanding of HIV/AIDs, which can then fuel behaviour change. When HIV/AIDS communication interventions make a shift from individual targets to social or community empowerment, the impact is great.
HIV/AIDS SITUATION IN CAMEROON
Since 2001, HIV/AIDs prevalence has been on a steady increase with women suffering the most casualties. The sharp rise in HIV prevalence among pregnant women more than doubled to over 11% among those aged 20-24 between 1998 and 2000, showing how suddenly the epidemic can surge. UNAIDS (2003) statistics reveal that the number of adults aged 15-49 with HIV/AIDS was 520,000 while that for women age 15-49 was 290,000, therefore accounting for more than 55% of the total number of people infected.
The Human Immuno-deficiency virus (HIV) and the Acquired Immuno-deficiency syndrome (AIDs) pandemic is having devastating effects on individuals, families and communities.
The disease is becoming more and more visible in public health circles. In 2003, AIDs patients in the Douala Laquintinie Hospital occupied 30% of hospital beds, while AIDs patients equally occupied 50% of hospital beds in the Medical Ward of the Yaounde General Hospital.
A study on Trends in Mortality from HIV/AIDs patients hospitalised in the Limbe Provincial Hospital from 2001-2005 revealed a steady increase in mortality rate of 3.24% in 2001 to 43.36% in 2005 with an approximate geometric factor of 2. (Atongno 2006).
The study equally found that patients present themselves at the hospital at the terminal stage of the disease where medical intervention could contribute very little to their chances of survival as compared to early diagnosis, treatment and follow-up.
The challenge posed by this pandemic is enormous. Indeed, its social, economic and financial consequences are already being felt widely in health, education, industry, agriculture, transport, human resources. Thousands of adults are dying young or in early middle age. More and more children are being orphaned in Cameroon while many more infections are being recorded each year through mother-to-child transmission, either at birth or through breast-feeding.
This situation made the Cameroon Government through the assistance of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international institutions to put in place strategies for the fight against HIV/AIDS.
This has seen the implementation of short and medium term plans; the short term plan for 1987, the medium term plan I (1988-1992), medium term plan II (1993-1995), the framework for the fight against HIV/AIDS (1999-2000) and the 5-year national strategic plan (2000-2005) which had various components. Equally, AIDS has been identified as a development problem and as such AIDS control was one of the priorities of Cameroon's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. (UNAIDS 2003). The Joint United Nations Programme for the fight against HIV/AIDS documents this inclusion of HIV/AIDS in the poverty reduction strategy as a best practice. Equally, the President of the Republic and First Lady Chantal Biya, through CERAC (the Circle of Friends of Cameroon) has remained strong pillars of the AIDS program since 1996.
However, despite these enormous efforts the fight against HIV/AIDS has remained elusive. The persistence of the pandemic instigated the Prime Minister of the Republic to launch a campaign against HIV/AIDS in collaboration with the United Nations AIDS programme in September 2002. This campaign besides its other objectives had as the main focus, the dissemination of information about HIV/AIDS; social mobilisation; prevention of mother to child transmission and support research in HIV/AIDS.
However, these interventions have had mixed results due to several factors including, insufficient co-ordination among stakeholders, ineffective integration and co-operation amongst the sectors, and scarcity and mismanagement of human and financial resources (UNAIDS 2004).
According to Tanjong (2003), the increase of this disease is based on intervening factors, which are probably acting simultaneously. These, he contends, includes demographics, behavioural, biological, political...