A few words on bad words
All of these words made the Bad Word List this week because of what they imparted to readers — or failed to impart.
“Imbecile” for example, used in a recent news story to characterise an “old and blind” woman — who had been raped — imparted a demeaning image, and failed to impart that the victim of this crime suffered from age-related mental disabilities. A reporter who brought this to my attention said the use of this word also made the victim sound less worthy of respect.
A participant pointed out “old” didn’t help — as it has been used to describe women as young as the current HealthWriterZambia (52) — as well as people twice that age.
“Peer educator” has been added at a participant’s suggestion because, overused, it has come to substitute for information about who is doing what, and why. A paid employee who happens to be about the same age as a client, and lives in the same community is not necessarily a “peer educator.” A prisoner who has been trained to help communicate information about HIV to other prisoners is a peer educator — but the description of what the prisoner does is more interesting than the title “peer educator.”
“Full-blown AIDS” seems redundant and carries an air of extra stigma, a participant said, after hearing the outdated expression used at a recent conference. It certainly doesn’t add anything to readers’ understanding, implying that this is a different kind of AIDS.
In addition to the above contributions, one participant raised a problem with the premise of the Alphabet Soup list, as well as some of the other bad words, pointing out that space issues in newspapers make the shortest way of saying something often the preferable way.
This writer, whose comment is posted at the end of the Bad Word List, says she can see why the listed words are bad words for writing about health, but doubts the practicality of using longer alternatives. An important point, and one reason why one must be flexible. Also, as some people find with the other kind of bad word, a word that has the power to offend, or one that isn’t meant to be taken literally, has its place at times.
But when space for words is scarce, the words we choose should count. And if, for example “old” means 50 to one reader, and conjures up an age of biblical digits to another, a better use of the limited space would be to say “woman in her 80s.”
Somewhere in the paper, space can be found to accommodate that, when you take out the “full blown” in front of “AIDS,” substitute “death” for “mortality“, and save the word “innocent” for court stories.
Important columns highlight reasons behind depressing data
If you missed it, look up Friday Dec. 11 Post‘s Soul 2 Soul with Edem Djokotoe, who notes sadly that the recently marked annual World AIDS Day has become the day when “high rollers and heavy hitters in the arena of HIV and AIDS interventionism turn out in their finery to find out who’s got the coolest and fanciest T-shirt of them all,” Then, he adds, after candle-lighting speeches – and lunch, they “congratulate themselves on the strides they have made from the previous year.” Except, he points out, the strides aren’t much to celebrate, when numbers are going up and prevalence remains tragically high.
While hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars come in to support HIV treatment and prevention measures, he writes, among them more than “640,000 voluntary counseling and testing encounters” some of those imported interventions may be missing their target because they are aimed at the wrong audience — like one in another country.
Djokotoe cites the PSP-One study: “Who Goes Where and Why? Examining Counseling and Testing Services in the Public and Private Sectors in Zambia” (also cited here), which showed most people tested for the virus that leads to AIDS in Luapala and the Copperbelt did not receive counseling to disclose their status and reduce their number of partners. “Not a particularly encouraging research finding,” Djokotoe notes, in the face of data showing the epidemic here is driven largely by heterosexual encounters.
Djokotoe has done a service, finding a problem – one that could be addressed — in a week flooded with baffling success stories. The study he cites is in fact a success story, as it points toward hope. If those getting tested receive relevant messages – maybe the numbers would fall. Unfortunately, the report was disseminated quietly in a week when the American Thanksgiving holiday made comment hard to get. But . . .
Help is at hand
USAID likes to get word out about its work. If you need a response on USAID-funded efforts, like the study above — and staffers do need clearance to talk to press — call:
Chris Mahoney, Development Outreach Communications
U.S. Agency for International
Cell: +260 (978) 772538
He should be able to facilitate your efforts, or point you in the right direction.
Another problem another solution
Also on Friday, in the Zambia Daily Mail, AIDS Matters column, Justin Mwiinga highlights the GIPA report card — an evaluation of how well Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV and AIDS is going here — in “People living with HIV want their voice heard”
The column presents a statement from NZP+ detailing obstacles between people living with HIV face in and the meaningful role they can take finding solutions to the epidemic here – being given marginal, token roles, being expected to work without pay among them. Another problem – another solution. Greater involvement of people most affected by HIV could lead to planning that yields results – instead of deliverables. Like Djokotoe’s column on the the PSP-One “Who goes where and why . . .” this column draws attention to the importance of genuinely local efforts that take their lead by those most affected. This is something local journalists should focus on for exactly that reason.
Mwiinga includes contact information for more information on the GIPA (Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV and AIDS) report card on the extent to which those most affected by the epidemic are included in efforts to address it.
For more information on the report card, Mwiinga says, contact Kenly Sikwese, Focal Point GIPA Report Card, Network of Zambian People Living with HIV: 0977-419888/0966-261218.
Treatment for more people living with HIV?
It will be interesting to see how the study described here, reported in the Independent strikes people currently receiving treatment for HIV — and those who provide services to them, as well as people still waiting for treatment — and well as those trying to get treatment to remote areas. Expensive laboratory testing of blood, that is considered part of treatment for people receiving medicine for HIV, does not appear to be necessary, according to the article. And the money saved could help more people get on, and stay on life-saving treatment. A local follow of this report could inform readers of the current state of treatment in Zambia.