ROME — The 6th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention kicked off in Rome with a major boost in terms of media coverage.
Last week, in the run up to the conference, new studies on AIDS drugs found to reduce the risk of heterosexual infection rates drew headlines around the world. Richard Ingham of AFP was one of many journalists who covered the findings. He also spoke to reporters gathered for the conference as part of a media training session and gave a compelling overview of where coverage of HIV/AIDS has been over the past 30 years and where it may be headed.
He described coverage in the early days of the epidemic as dominated by the fear factor, when little was known about the disease, how it was spread and who was at risk. As public understanding grew by the mid-90s the coverage was marked by the guilt factor, with questions about why drugs were not reaching African countries hardest hit by HIV. As seen by last week’s coverage, stories have now shifted to focus on medicine and scientific advances in the fight against AIDS.
The epidemic may be three decades old but there are several important topics that deserve further coverage, including (but not limited to): the issues faced by those AIDS survivors as they age, coercive sex and domestic violence and stigma and homophobia.
But it was sobering to hear journalists talk about the struggles they face trying to get editors interested in running stories. AIDS fatigue seems to be a global phenomenon that stretches across both traditional and new media. It’s also interesting to note that several U.S.-based journalists who cover AIDS aren’t here in Rome this week. Certainly this is a smaller and more technical meeting than the AIDS conferences that fall in even-numbered years. Yet there’s no doubt that economic pressures and cutbacks in newsrooms around the world mean those who may have covered this conference previously weren’t able to make the trip.
At the end of his presentation Ingham opened up the discussion with three questions that are very relevant to anyone who’s interested in media coverage of HIV/AIDS:
Is AIDS coverage driven too much by global issues, rather than local ones?
Is the majority of AIDS coverage still deserved given the rise of NCDs that pose a growing health threat worldwide?
What about the role of new media? What can websites and social networking bring to AIDS coverage?