My interest was inspired by my mid-term project which focused on the potential for Namibia to be a player in the global market given the spread of digital technology platforms and the leveling effect these can provide emerging markets. Promising but dim.In spite of a free government, no civil wars, active tourism, and a land rich in natural resources, nearly ½ of Namibia’s population lives on less than $1 a day and 1% of the population consumes more than the rest of it combined. In much of the literature, Namibia is referred to as the land of inequality given the great economic divide between the urban and rural populations. In 2004, as one way to bridge this gap within and outside its borders Namibia’s government established an aggressive plan to raise the quality of life for all Namibians. Move Namibia from a primarily agricultural-based economy to a knowledge-based, technology-driven economy. This is happening thru investments in technology, education and entrepreneurial activities across the country.But over the course of my research – one fact kept haunting all stories about Namibia: The impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Namibia has a population of 2.1M people spread out over a landmass the size of Texas and LA combined. By comparison, the population of Houston alone is @ 2M people. Estimates vary but averages are anywhere from 15-20 of the total population of Namibia suffers from HIV/AIDS. In some parts of the country, 40% of rural populations are estimated to be afflicted.For its youth – ages 15-24 -- more than 15% have HIV/AIDS and they’re the highest risk group for infection. Females in this age group are 2x-4x more likely to be infected. AIDS is the number one cause of death in Namibia.When I stopped reading those numbers as statistics and started thinking about them as real people it was startling. To put it into context, 9% of the US is unemployed. This is a crisis we read about everyday because of the trickle down impact this unemployment rate has on the overall population, the strength of our communities and the health of our economy. Double that number and add in the catastrophic economic and social costs associated with caring for a population with HIV/AIDS and the realities are staggering.It’s particularly unimaginable when you factor in 40% of the population of Namibia is under the age of 15 – the cusp of the high risk group.
Beyond the obvious, why does this matter? Because in 20 years or so, this is also the demographic that will be the primary workforce for Namibia and they face a promising future with the right access to technology and digital media. The reasons HIV rates are on the rise for them are potentially preventable through education outreach coupled with peer and community interventions – need both The high-risk behaviors include:Succumbing to Peer pressureAlcohol abuse – impaired judgmentFailure to use condomsUnprotected sex with multiple partners Females being exploited by older men This last one has more of a cultural basis – and studies have shown awareness campaigns alone do not remove cultural barriers but interactions with trusted sources and communities improve odds.For my research I wanted to know:Are healthcare workers, educators and other community leaders able to reach youth thru digital media with HIV prevention messages? Are youth starting to connect with one another to share stories and learn about the realities of living with HIV? Is this access to information and community changing their behaviors around HIV education and health and impacting prevalence?
So what did I find? Worldwide, this area of research is still emerging. Of the handful of studies I found, none were based in Namibia. Not shocking given only 11% of the population has Internet access and only @50% has mobile access. The few studies I did find didn’t confirm any direct ties between digital media impacting HIV/AIDS behaviors and stressed that more rigorous research is needed. But most were encouraging and this is definitely and are to watch over the next few years.Even though nothing definitive, there are many campaigns underway – some that started years ago -- and compelling anecdotal studies that point in a positive direction. So I extrapolated my findings and applied them to what I know about the power of DM as a comms platform, what I learned about Namibian youth and HIV, and their DM habits and landed on the side of the optimists.
What do we know about digital media platforms as a way to share and access health information in gen’l? Provide:Cost effective way to share information esp localized content – text has been particularly powerful where literacy rates are lowA way for peer groups to educate one anotherVenue for anonymous queries/supportBorderless --- geography and demographics – change community norms and provide links to possibilities for other interventionsEasier to overcome literacy barriers thru localized graphics than words Downsides: Lack of sustained contact – need to make it stickyMisinformation – separating fact from fiction or taboo myths or AIDS denialistsBullying of victimsLack of privacyHave to be local to overcome cultural barriersPropogation of unproven treatments
What do youth need most in order to connect with health message campaigns in a way to change their behavior? They need:To feel the sense of urgency to change behaviors To understand consequences will and do apply to themPeer and community support lessens stigma Sustained contact with the messageTo see themselves in the messageTrust is key – they need to trust the msg, that it applies to them, they need to trust the source, increases chance of disclosureThey need localized messages that are specific to them and their culture
Like much of the world, iIt’s an open road of opportunity – I like this image b/c it’s a reminder of how vast and rural much of the country is.#s are small, but the % of Namibian youth who are growing up digital is on the riseNamibian youth are using cell phones in growing numbers, engaging on social networking platforms like Facebook and MXit – a mobile platform. Mobile, as mentioned, has shown promise as a way to provide information and interventions to HIV/AIDS teens – Uganda, Youthnet.One interesting key is that storytelling is prevalent in namibian cultureComputers, video games and TV are becoming the dominant story tellers in Namibian society -= with more access, mobile and Internet platforms won’t be far behindThis is where providing tools to educators, community leaders and engaging youth who are afflicted to tell their stories and act as resources to the community will help build awareness in target groupThe interpersonal nature of digital media esp to targeted communities has the potential to break thru some cultural barriers and influence social norms -- As in all cases, DM is not a remedy but it is a tool. In spite of disparities across cultures and economics, the ability to create and distribute localized msgs with images and video coupled with active outreach campaigns lead by & affiliated with people they trust, I suspect some positive impacts will be made to influence behaviors.Interesting point that stuck with me -- health beliefs vary from culture to culture but desire to be in good health is a msg that crosses all cultures – we just need the right tools and the right people to deliver the msg to Nambia’s youth.
Will Digital Media Influence the HIV/AIDSEducation and Behaviors of Namibian Youth Presented by Shelby Barnes, COM597: Emerging Markets and Digital Media, 12/04/10