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A large chunk of our reporting focuses on HIV. Since the launch of Bhekisisa in 2013, we’ve covered HIV in-depth — from the impact of the virus on former president Nelson Mandela’s family to the advances in antiretroviral treatment and anti-HIV pills and injections. We’ve also looked at the impact of inequality and discrimination on the spread of HIV, the link between gender-based violence and HIV — and ways to fix it.

HomeArticlesEight ways to make HIV stories meaningful

Eight ways to make HIV stories meaningful

HIV is a mirror that reflects how we think about society. It exposes our prejudices. Find out how to tell interesting stories about it.


1. Give it human face

It’s an old trick, but almost always works: Sell your story with a case study. Our most read story in 2017 focused on nocturnal HIV wellness clinics for sex workers and truck drivers in Kenya. Sounds complex? Not if you humanise it. Read how: https://bit.ly/2oHwnaN

2. Make it relevant to your mom or sister’s life

Think about what the people who surround you would want to know. For instance, do they know women are getting infected with HIV at a faster rate than men, but far more men die of the virus? Here’s why: https://bit.ly/2JM7OUY

3. Tag onto politics

Controversial: Helen Zille has said a number of questionable things about HIV over the years.

When politicians say something about HIV, right or wrong, investigate their statements. When South African-born Hollywood actress Charlize Theron highlighted how inequality and prejudice fuel the spread of HIV at the International Aids Conference in 2016, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille disagreed. We jumped at the chance to correct the Premier: https://bit.ly/2aBtYJs

4. Simplify it, then explore

Did you know there’s an HIV prevention pill? The use of the little blue pill is not as straightforward as it sounds. But you can use it to draw people’s attention to HIV and then elaborate on more complex issues, for instance, on why it’s not a morning-after-pill: https://bit.ly/2BChHA4

5. Question government policies

Decriminalising sex work can help prevent the spread of HIV in the country.

Sex work is illegal in South Africa. How does that impact on the spread of HIV? Badly. Many HIV-positive sex workers are reluctant to collect antiretroviral treatment from state clinics. They’re scared of being arrested or being discriminated against. What type of regulation would work better? Find out here: https://bit.ly/2scI4UU

6. Drop the moral judgment, follow the evidence instead

HIV science is moving fast, making for great stories. Did you know that there’s scientific consensus: HIV-infected people on treatment with suppressed viral loads (the amount of virus in their blood) can’t transmit HIV to others through sex? Here’s why: https://bit.ly/2p8N7Gq

7. Use different mediums

There’s more than one way to tell a story. If you work in print, it’s time to learn how to do podcasts and videos. It’s your future. We’ve done print stories on blessers and HIV: https://bit.ly/29PkCqP. But also podcasts: https://bit.ly/2JMyJjn

8. Mainstream HIV

HIV has become part of our lives. It’s no longer as compartmentalised as in the past. Our stories should reflect that. The main subject of your report doesn’t necessarily have to be HIV – the virus can fit in almost any story. This story is about rape, but also talks about HIV: https://bit.ly/2umxMpM

Bhekisisa director and editor, Mia Malan, shared these tips at the Botswana-based INK Centre for Investigative journalism’s HIV media workshop in June.

Mia Malan is the founder and editor-in-chief of Bhekisisa. She has worked in newsrooms in Johannesburg, Nairobi and Washington, DC, winning more than 30 awards for her radio, print and television work.

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