Mind your language when it comes to HIV

Windhoek – Writing is one of the most exciting and gratifying careers because in one way or the other a writer influences and impacts people’s lives in so many unimaginable ways.  Without knowing it or necessarily expecting it would be the case with every single article, you find yourself changing someone’s perspective or behaviour when you least expect it.  Unfortunately, however, it is not always the case that one impacts a reader positively because sometimes writers use language that is generally perceived as insensitive. Therefore, when writing on topics such as gender and HIV amongst others which are rather sensitive, writers must at all times remain language sensitive and not use language that can suppress and marginalise readers.  Dr Alexis Ntumba an HIV expert from the organisation IntraHealth International in Namibia says “Media is the most important body that plays a role in informing the public to bring positive change in policy and practice. All know that there is no cure for HIV/AIDS; it is of paramount importance that people are reached through effective communication on the impact of the disease as well as the need for prevention, care and support.  Also, most people take information from media as a gospel that is why chosen appropriate words are important.”  There are certain words used in reporting that might bring about stigma and discrimination rather than fighting them. Hence journalists are always being encouraged should find the right words to convey messages regarding HIV/AIDS he said.  Journalists must understand medical terms to ensure effective communication. Also responsible journalists need to be careful in the way they use the language, which should not promote stigma and discrimination of those living with HIV/AIDS.  When journalist use appropriate language it is obvious that the readers, listeners and viewers will also use the same language.  It is therefore crucial that journalists use sensitive language when reporting about HIV/AIDS so that the public will also do the same.  A guideline for journalists is needed.    Here are some of the words or phrases journalists and the public alike should avoid:  1.      HIV/AIDS sufferers or victims. Using these words can lead to disempowerment and discrimination, thinking that anyone with HIV is really suffering in bed or desperate (message of hope is important) People living with HIV is acceptable word and more appropriate. 2.      OVCs: Orphans and vulnerable children. One can be orphan and still having dignity like any other child. Labeling children as vulnerable is not sound. The term Orphans alone is more appropriate. Also  avoid the word orphan of HIV/AIDS 3.      Deadly disease.  Today there is a treatment making HIV a chronic disease. Treatment will maintain people and may live as long as possible. HIV does not have a cure but there is treatment that can maintain one alive. HIV is a chronic disease sounds appropriate    Dreadful disease.  This word might scare people and bring about discrimination and stigma. Rather say again a chronic disease that can be managed by medical personnel.  Kennedy Lifalaza from the HIV organisation Positive Vibes said “AIDS – the acronym, has been associated with dying, hopeless and being a victim, so when you are referring to People Living with HIV (PLHIV) rather use HIV and AIDS, NOT HIV/AIDS or again just say PLHIV”.  He stressed that the word victim is puts people in a situation where they almost cannot fight back; therefore he suggests journalists use phrases like PLHIV instead.

November 2010
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