Silence Endangers The Generation

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HIV and AIDS prevention messages which ought to strike the ears of the millions of adolescent boys and girls every single moment have failed to reach the targeted population due to the concerned agencies becoming continuously inactive for the past few years. Government has apparently neglected the Information, Education and Communication aspect of AIDS Control programme in Manipur. It is unfortunate that the media-sensed people do not handle the communication section of the programme in MACS thereby rendering the much-valued information component ineffective. Education, awareness and sensitization programmes on AIDS have failed to reach the nook and corner of the state. The various available media are not utilized properly to generate awareness and also to bring about positive behaviour. It is high time the Manipur state AIDS Control Society and the related NGOs paid due importance to the information and communication aspects of the AIDS control programme so as to bring about hundred percent awareness of the people not only on paper but also in reality.

by: Seram Neken
“Delay sex till marriage. Insist on voluntary pre-marital HIV test before marriage. Avoid extra-marital sexual relationship with strangers. Under unavoidable circumstances, use condoms correctly and consistently. Never share injecting and skin piercing equipment with others.” – These mantras are the only vaccines available against HIV. Listen regularly and spread the message to family, friends and relatives so as to save the generation.
How many young boys and girls attain their adolescence and how many young couples get married in a single day in Manipur?  These huge numbers of young people need HIV prevention messages for their protection almost on daily basis. Proper utilization of communication channels can only save the youths from HIV infection. The louder we shout, the greater will be safety for our youths. Silence, on the other hand, endangers all.
Unfortunately, we have neither heard nor seen any effective HIV prevention messages in the popular mass media like Doordarshan, Cable networks and Radio in Manipur for the past few years. No new appealing hoarding or signboard comes up in public places in the recent past. We no longer see reports of organizing AIDS awareness sessions and campaigns in the media. No effective innovative action is in sight to bring awareness to the people. The Website of Manipur State AIDS Control Society has been sitting idle with no interesting and useful updates right from its birth. No new publication or resource relating to AIDS in Manipur is readily available for studies and reference by common people. Apparently, public relations and media activities of the AIDS agencies are poor in the state. Neglecting the information, education and communication aspects of HIV and AIDS control programme will always make it impossible to minimize the alarming statistics. As there is no standard vaccine against HIV, education is the only means available for prevention against HIV.
Greater involvement of media
Besides simply reporting newsworthy events to the people, media persons today have started involving themselves in varied issues as a necessary moral responsibility. A reporter in an accident site, for instance, helps the wounded victim reach the hospital other than his official task of filing the story. Further, the same reporter goes deeper to find out the cause of the accident in that particular site and put forward suggestions to prevent further accidents to the authority. He continues to monitor the response of the authority and concrete actions in this regard. This is the concept of greater involvement of media.
Particularly in critical issues like HIV/AIDS, media needs to be involved more and more. May be with this purpose that media workshops on HIV/AIDS are frequently organized in the state. Two key words are always heard in deliberations of experts, VIPs and officials: “AIDS is alarming in the state” and “role of media is important in prevention and control of HIV and AIDS”. Recommendations must have been adopted in paper, yet no concrete follow-up action reaching the public ears and eyes has been seen till date. It is worthy of mention that number of workshops organized in the state in a year is not the real indicator to assess the involvement of media in AIDS prevention activities.
Neglect of communications
It seems that those concerned with AIDS control programme in the state remain complacent in the increased number of NGOs, ART centres, Community care centres, drop-in centres etc. without bothering anything for the huge number of adolescents who immediately need regular HIV prevention messages. Behaviour change requires continued feeding of preventive messages in the minds of those who badly need them. Stigma and discrimination hampering AIDS control efforts can be reduced only with proper utilization of communication channels. As prevention is always better than cure, clinical and treatment services are not more important than preventive education through media.
Without proper communication, not a single component of AIDS control programme will succeed. For instance, Ante-retroviral treatment (ART) is available free of cost at selected government health establishments across the state. However, unless reported to the people via suitable media, the programme will never gain the proposed target. Media has to motivate PLWHAs to come forward to avail the treatment services. By publishing positive lifestyles of affected people and their success stories, media has to help create a conducive and enabling environment free of stigma and discrimination where HIV infected people can freely disclose their status without hesitation. Society at large has to be sensitized on this programme with proper communication. Media also has to help influence policy makers and programme executors in chalking out client oriented strategies suitable to changing trend of the epidemic. Feedbacks to the programme have also to be monitored through the media. Hence, it is not wise enough to sideline the role of media in the successful implementation of any HIV/AIDS programme.
Rationale for choice of media
Different people have different media tastes pertaining to their age-group, literacy level, intellectual levels, work and leisure etc. For example, to the majority of rural women who usually work in the field, radio is preferable to all sorts of print materials and the television channels. People can listen to Radio even while they are working in fields. However, people have to devote time to watch TV, Cable networks and films at specific places. To a learned government employee, newspaper is the best informer. The visuals of TV and films have no impact on those who drive on highways. They prefer CDs and audio cassettes. Illiterate busy market commuters and traders can well be educated through big posters and hoarding with effective pictures at roadsides. Films have entertaining elements which attract mostly the young people. Interpersonal communication like counseling can do better to train, motivate and clear doubts for clients on related issues. 
For reaching the heterogeneous population in both rural and urban areas, Shumang Lila is the best choice as rich and poor, educated and illiterate, old and young – from intellectuals to illiterate housewives – all comprise an audience for Shumang lila. Besides Meiteis, tribal groups and muslim community are also very much enthusiastic and interested in these performances as it was experimentally proved a few years back when Tangkhul, Paite, Thadou, Kabui and Hmar drama groups were made to display Shumang Lila in their own dialects by the Manipur State AIDS Control Society. This art form has mobility and carries flexibility of messages. As it is live performance, actors can update the messages and languages according to the suitability and tastes of the audience. It is also cost effective because a single play for around 2 hours can entertain and educate as many as 1000 people. People have faith in the messages given in these plays because the story and language are locally adaptable. The puppet shows are meant for the younger people – students and youths.
It is well accepted that radio is the most popular and cost effective medium of communication in Manipur with widest reach and maximum access as compared to others.  Moreover, majority of young housewives tune to the variety entertainment programmes of Sangai Channel of Imphal radio during daytime. As done some years back, broadcasting beautifully designed short jingles with HIV prevention messages through this medium during peak hour will serve the purpose at minimum expense. Daily broadcast of messages during morning radio news bulletin can remind the thousands of youths of the behavioural precautions before the day’s go-out. 
The sole purpose of any multi-media campaign is to benefit all people irrespective of age-groups, communities, cultures, knowledge levels and place of residence by using various types of media. Hence, selection of media should be based on scientific findings of a communication needs assessment of the target groups. The ‘reach’ and ‘access’ of any form of media needs to be explored professionally before using it so that nobody is left out. Even nationally designed events may be refined taking into account the local acceptability. It is more important in respect of Manipur where varied cultural groups and dialects exist.
(The writer is a Freelance Journalist)
         

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