New Face to Miami’s Epidemic: HIV/AIDS

Posted on May 17, 2011

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It is astounding when one learns about the seriousness of a disease as well as its relevancy to ones community. It is even more surprising when one comes to find out that there is nothing really being done about it in the media to bring a high rate of awareness. After watching the film documentary “Lessons from South Africa,” where Associate Professor at Florida International University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Allan Richards, took on the journey, along with two of his students, to the epicenter of HIV/AIDS, trying to compare how South Africa’s media handled coverage of the disease in comparison with Miami, city which has the highest concentrations of people with the disease in the United States, it was heartbreaking to see how poorly our media touched base on the subject.  Over the years coverage about the disease has diminished and this is because newspapers and broadcasting has reduced health coverage as a whole.

If one asks ones peers if they knew that Miami-Dade county was the highest concentration of new cases for HIV/AIDS in the United States, they could obviously respond either yes or no. For the people that say yes, if you ask them “where did you learn that from?” most would respond: “I know someone who has the disease and they informed me,” “I learned it in school at a health class,” or “I read it online while doing some research for a class.” Very few people will say that they learned this from a television and/or radio coverage story in the media.

For this reason, Richards took it upon himself to tackle the under-covered subject of HIV/AIDS, in a creative way to send a message to the media saying that there is much more to be done in order to inform our community, as the documentary shows the creative initiatives that South Africa’s media has taken on to provide information, resources and hope for life. Miami and the rest of the world must learn from South Africa’s media example of how they have mobilized and are fighting back to create awareness. It is understandable that in South Africa, larger numbers in population are so affected by the disease that the media was forced to react to it. The film really showed how HIV/AIDS pushed the Health Agenda on the media after civil society took it upon themselves to raise awareness about two decades ago when the government was not doing anything about the problem. Thanks to the media’s involvement with the provision of information, fears that haunted inhabitant in the 1990’s about HIV like “getting infected meant a death sentence,” has left people’s minds as they learned that alternative solutions were available thanks to available treatment to live with the disease. Another positive improvement amongst the South African community is the fact that condom usage increased a tremendous amount from 20% in 1998 to 70% in recent studies thanks to awareness.

Along with the documentary, Richards encouraged his multimedia class to develop and run a website called tellsomebodynow.com to contribute with the campaign efforts for awareness. This website provides information about the disease, ways to prevent it, places to go to get tested and even documentaries and interviews about the subject. This website serves to help the community here in Miami in order to prevent the spread of the disease through knowledge and education. The film documentary “Lessons from South Africa” is also posted in the home page of the website. Adding on, the fact that the chosen medium of communications for the documentary is film rather than print or television really helps the audience to get a sense of what the characters are going through, therefore it facilitates to be more in touch with their feelings.

First time I watched the documentary in class, I vividly remember the scene where a South African woman who was HIV positive received the news that her baby turned out to be HIV negative. The woman’s fear for the wellbeing of her baby was so true and evident, her concern could be detected as she walked in the office of the doctor trembling and slowly sitting on the chair while holding her baby so close to her chest; protecting him. When the doctor revealed to her the amazing news, her scream for joy was so loud and honest that I felt goose bumps as I sat in my auditorium chair and my eyes watered because I suddenly felt what she was feeling; a sense of hope for a better life for her little one.

The film also mentioned, “in Miami the struggle is not taking place on the streets (like in South Africa,) rather the war is largely being fought in academia.”  Educators like William Darrow, PHD, Professor of Public Health at Florida International University, inform us that by the time budget cuts come around, public health education turns out to be the most affected. A disease like HIV/AIDS should have more coverage in every affecting aspect, it being media coverage and monetary coverage with the support from the government, especially since it is so prevalent here in Miami. Progressive change needs to take form in creative ways as soon as possible. Also, people need to go get tested and tell their relatives and friends to do the same. United our community can make a valuable positive change.

By: Vanessa C. Rodriguez

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