IWMF Fellows Investigate Untold Stories of HIV in South Africa

by Elischia Fludd

July 18, 2013 — The IWMF HIV/AIDS Investigative Reporting Fellowship is well underway with the fellows having completed their opening sessions in May. The year-long fellowship provides advanced training and stipends for fellows to report untold stories about the HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa. The 2013 Fellows are comprised of seasoned and up and coming journalists that represent a number of publications which covers the areas of Durban, Johannesburg, Rosebank and Kimberley. Following the first session, fellows expressed what they hoped to achieve through the program.

“The speakers and the sessions we?ve had opened my mind to ideas that could be covered,” says Siphosethu Stuurman. The up and coming health journalist with SABC entered the fellowship with the intention to investigate medical male circumcision versus traditional circumcision in the context of HIV. Stuurman plans to gather stories about HIV in rural areas, as well as investigate how effective specialty treatment for men who have sex with men (MSM) is in reducing their high at-risk status.

Many of the fellows are interested in the fellowship because it offers an opportunity to explore stories that will add valuable dialogue within their community of readers. Yanga Soji writes for The Daily Sun and notes the need for new stories. The Daily Sun?s readership is currently the largest in the country that tailors to blue collar workers.

“What interests me is that over the past 10 years, the reporting on HIV/AIDS has not been that great. I think the challenge for me as a young journalist in South Africa who is with a publication that reaches so many South Africans is to tell new stories about HIV and AIDS”, admits Soji.

Soji is interested in the humanity of South Africans living under rough economic conditions. She will report on stories that follow the triumphs and struggles of affording adequate nutrition as a person living with HIV, particularly persons living on government assistance.

Fellow Mpume Madlala is looking to highlight stories about the care, struggles and dreams of HIV patients receiving hospice care for her readership in The Daily News.”This fellowship is interesting because you get to touch lives through the stories that you will do. I want to do something that makes a difference. I want to write stories that have an impact on people”, says Madlala.

Investigating the impact of HIV/AIDS covers a range of concerns that can include the effectiveness of drug treatment, a topic that Vuyo Mkize will cover on her beat for The Star. Mkize is interested in following the story of a patient that is receiving triple fixed dose combination of drugs, as well as exploring the medical option treatments afforded to persons with HIV/AIDS in prisons.

Drug treatment and prisons each have classism in common; many would assume that the wealthy in each case can avoid maltreatment. As a part of her fellowship as a journalist for The Times, Katharine Child will take a closer look at stories of wealthy HIV positive South Africans that use government treatment facilities instead of private doctors that they can easily afford.

“I want to look at why private doctors give such poor treatment with HIV. Doctors should know a bit better if 17% of their patients are going to present with HIV,” reveals Child.

Revealing stories requires the utmost of trust between journalists and their sources, a factor each fellow takes into account. “Let?s talk about stuff people don?t talk about,” is a motto that Thabisa Dyala of SABC Channel Africa holds dear. A former activist working with HIV-positive people, Dyala wants to talk more about the disclosure process and the practicality of prevention education within South Africa. Dyala has a goal to restore trust between journalists and HIV positive persons that largely distrust disclosing their status.

Perceptions of status disclosure affect densely populated areas in South Africa, as people can lack education where they do not speak about the disease. High traffic areas in South Africa are cause for concern with the spread of HIV/AIDS.
In her research, Boipelo Mere will focus on the correlation of HIV infection rates in high traffic areas for The Northern Cape. Mere?s stories will target youth to educate on the level of exposure they have to the disease due to the high traffic of truck drivers and miners in the northern area.

HIV infection rates from high traffic areas also bring another concern that echoes throughout the country, infection from rape. Lungi Langa will investigate for Isolezwe Newspaper the seemingly growing trend of the reported rapes of grandmothers. Langa wonders if there is a myth connected to the rapes much like how the myth that sleeping with female virgins is a cure for HIV led to a spike in the rape of many young girls. Langa will also seek out stories of modern day polygamists to learn about the precautions they are taking to avoid infection.

Rounding out the group of investigative reporter fellows are Amy Green of the Mail and Guardian and Hasina Gori of SABC Digital News. Green will focus on the adequacy of mental health services for patients of HIV and their families. Gori will leverage her expertise as a certified HIV/AIDS Counselor to investigate how immigrants to South Africa receive proper care for HIV.

As their investigations take shape, the group anticipates applying new-found expertise. “I don?t think any health journalist should be practicing without almost an expert knowledge”, says fellow Amy Green.

Yanga Soji
Yanga Soji
Thabisa Dyala
Thabisa Dyala
Boipelo Mere
Boipelo Mere