ICOM 895 Information Campaigns
‘Mach’s mit’ (join in) - The national information campaign against the spreading of HIV in Germany
Since the first cases of AIDS became known in the early 1980’s, the HIV epidemic continues to spread worldwide. According to the estimates by UNAIDS, the United Nations’ coordinating programme for combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic, more than four million people have become infected with HIV in 2005 (UNAIDS 2006, p. 13). Whereas developing countries are affected particularly seriously, with infection rates up to 25% of the population, the developed world was able to take action at an early stage and keep infection under 0.7% (UNAIDS 2006, p. 11). Their main tool in containing the disease is public information and education about the dangers and the transmission of HIV. Explanatory, this paper will analyse the ‘mach’s mit’- Information Campaign initiated by the German government to prevent the spreading of HIV in Germany. At first background information will be given in order to outline the problem, the objective and the target group, before linking the campaign’s conception to theoretical considerations of persuasion.
HIV in Germany
In comparison to the international situation Germany has a relatively low HIV-prevalence. As early as 1987, the “Don’t give AIDS a Chance” project provided the population with essential information and established a high level of knowledge about the disease since then (BZgA 2006, p. 6). Conducted and funded by the federal government it was possible to convert the fear of this new disease into practical results; education and public interest led to minimizing HIV transmission. However, Germany has been confronted with an increasing number of newly diagnosed infections in the last few years. “The number of annual reported new HIV diagnoses almost tripled between 1999 and 2005” in Germany, where 2718 HIV infections were newly diagnosed in 2006 (UNIAIDS 2007, p. 34). “The previously successful prevention strategy” seems not to work anymore (Marcus 2007, p. 415). In order to counteract the recent increase of HIV infections, the federal ministry of health education [BZgA] initiated a public information campaign coping with the new circumstances.
The new Problem
Although the knowledge about AIDS and the ways of HIV transmission is very high, infection rates are on the rise again. These “increases coincide with a dramatic improvement of therapeutic options for the treatment of HIV infection[s]” (Marcus 2007, p. 415). General information has been gathered from various statistics giving quantitative evidence about increasing infections or identifying risk groups by numbers. Resorting to already available research as the first step is the most efficient way to identify the problem (Weinreich 1999, p. 28). However, additional qualitative research allows to “understand the ‘why’ of an issue” (Weinreich 1999, p. 30); only methods such as focus groups (Morgan 1996) or in depth interviews (Rosenblum 1987) were able to indicate the recent “condom fatigue” despite the high level of knowledge about AIDS (BZgA 2006, p. 10). Consequently, “the choice and adequacy of a method embodies a variety of assumptions regarding the methods through which […] knowledge can be obtained, as well as […] the nature of the phenomena to be investigated” (Smircich & Morgan 1980, p. 492). Therefore, a well balanced combination of “qualitative and quantitative methods proves especially valuable” to fully understand the problem (Kaplan & Duchon 1988, p. 582; Sandbæk 2006). The combined results showed that in contrast to the late 80’s and early 90’s, nowadays “many people no longer see AIDS as a lethal thread but merely as a health risk” (BZgA 2006, p. 9). Moreover, media coverage of AIDS related stories is constantly declining, and, given the low HIV prevalence, the risk of infection is not perceived to be very high and protection not essentially necessary (BZgA 2006, pp. 9-13). Whereas existing secondary research provided the general facts and numbers, the BZgA conducted primary research in order to identify the underlying reasons. In a case like this, “primary research is unavoidable” to link facts with the audience’s behavioural attitude (Weinreich 1999, p. 29).