By Information Deputy Minister Kindness Paradza
Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor and privilege for me to have been invited to officially open this very important workshop to update editors on the current progress and trends in the national response to HIV and AIDS.
Being a journalist myself, I am happy that I am talking to my peers and that we can effectively engage each other on how to ensure that the media fulfills its developmental mandate in as far as HIV and AIDS reportage is concerned. Most of you are aware that this is my home province, and therefore let me also do my own bit to welcome you to Mash Best.
Having celebrated the 41st anniversary our of our independence just a few days ago, I feel duty bound to wish you all happy independence and hope that you have used the occasion to reflect on the kind of service that you have rendered your nation.
Ladies and gentlemen, this workshop is taking place under altered conditions given the COVID-19 epidemic, which has created a new normal. Despite its devastation and potential to reverse most health and development gains recorded since independence, I am happy that our Government has faced the beast in the eye and achieved some commendable progress against the epidemic.
What is imperative is that we should always abide by the WHO and Government containment measures in place.
The anxiety we are experiencing in the country today due to COVID-19 is not totally different from that we experienced when HIV was first identified. Despite that, we managed to turn the tide and built a resilient response to HIV for which our country has been recognized as a best practice.
I am sure we can rely on the experiences we garnered in the response to HIV to effectively confront COVID-19. One of these experiences relates to the importance and role of the media in disseminating health information.
The emergence of COVID-19 has once again brought to the fore the relevance and role of the media and in a way, that of editors as we collectively seek to tame these two epidemics.
The promotion of relevant behavior changes such as social distancing, hand sanitization, wearing of face masks and the uptake of vaccination is a difficult endeavor in the face of hardened behaviors.
But we cannot fold our hands as editors and station managers– we have to scale up and be innovative.
Zimbabwe has been one of the very few countries in both our sub region and the entire globe to record a convincingly declining HIV prevalence and incidence.
At the same time, we have made tremendous progress in providing treatment, care and support to people infected and affected by HIV.
I am told that we have also already achieved the 90-90-90 targets, something that we should all be proud about.
These developments have been underpinned by political commitment, which has been animated by relevant policies such as the establishment of the National AIDS Trust Fund and the National AIDS Council, and the creation of an enabling environment for the participation of all sectors in the national response.
Zimbabwe adopted a multi-sectoral response to the pandemic in which all sectors including the donors, NGOs, the public and private sectors, the media as well as the general community have united their purposes and intents to tame the pandemic.
The media has been very active in that progress and I must salute the role editors and station managers have played in disseminating empowering information to the nation about HIV.
As editors and your journalists, you have individually and collectively done an impressive job to demystify HIV and made it a story about life and hope.
While acknowledging such contribution by the media, it is imperative to appeal to you as editors and media gatekeepers to increase your focus on HIV and COVID-19.
There is a lot more that you still have to do to ensure that the nation is adequately and at the same time empowered to make informed choices. As such, I would like to call on you to develop more innovative programmes in packaging HIV and COVID-19 messages to make them more appealing and palatable.
My involvement with HIV as a policy maker and a media practitioner has taught me that reporting this subject requires creativity and sensitivity to issues that we sometimes take for granted! Often times, coverage of HIV issues is only limited to the gory stories of who infected who and statistics of how many people have been infected by COVID-19, which tend to create victims out of some members of our society.
Or sometimes, just about abuse of resources.
To an extent, such coverage becomes stigmatizing and stereotyping of certain groups of society and therefore misses the point and opportunity of giving voices to the voiceless and projecting the developmental agenda therein.
Far from the belief in some quarters that HIV and AIDS stories are now tired and have probably been replaced by COVID-19, they remain relevant and worthy of our serious attention.
Indeed, HIV and AIDS have been part of our lives for nearly 30 years and have most probably received some of the most widespread coverage leading to the feeling that the stories may have lost their appeal. The politics of the day have also been very intriguing, creating competition for front page coverage with HIV and other related stories.
I must therefore emphasise the fact that the HIV and AIDS story remains an issue of public interest, which has an undying appeal as a story of both human suffering and hope. Its relationship with COVID-19 and non-communicable diseases makes it even more appealing and worth pursuing.
Ladies and gentlemen, competition for space is healthy but there is always a need by the media personnel to balance interests and ensure that all subjects that concern the livelihood of people receive coverage.
Information is very strategic in decision making both at individual and national levels. With correct and balanced information, one is able to take proper decisions and actions to prevent HIV infection and manage it where infection has taken place.
At the policy level, we always require correct information about HIV to debate motions in parliament.
In covering HIV, it is also important therefore for editors to understand that different audiences and levels require suitable and customized information specific to their needs and levels.
I want to thank the National AIDS Council for this workshop. We need such interaction and collaboration to share information and be better placed to inform and educate the nation. Access to information by the media is also very critical if the media has to adequately report on HIV and AIDS.
You will agree with me that the HIV and AIDS field is one of the very dynamic one, ever producing new information. Sharing this information with the media will thus result in the same information being shared with the wider audiences especially now that we have a multiplicity of outlets including community radios and online platforms.
The choice of targeting editors and station managers is very strategic as you are the media gatekeepers. You literally decide what the nation must hear and not hear.
It is therefore very important that you do not abuse this role but rather use it for the betterment of the nation as we face the challenges of addressing HIV and AIDS.
Editors, station managers and other media personnel are just human like every one of us and therefore equally susceptible to the risk of HIV infection.
Often times we have had to gather and mourn our colleagues who have succumbed to the pandemic. In this regard, I would like to call on NAC to assist various media houses to develop media HIV and AIDS policies to ensure that our valuable media personnel are also protected.
As your Ministry, we will always be available to listen to you and support you in your quest for the strengthening of the media profession as we seek to reposition ourselves as the true advocates of development and positive behavior change in pursuit of a nation wherein HIV and COVID-19 are no longer threats to human life.
I want to wish you fruitful discussions in the next few days and hope that by the end of the workshop, we will have been enriched in various ways.
It is now my singular honour and privilege to declare this meeting officially opened!
I thank You,