Fighting HIV–AIDS with Public Health Billboards: September ‘Art of Nursing’

By Sylvia Foley, AJN senior editor

Public Health Billboard, Guinea-Bissau (detail)

On a recent trip to the capital of Guinea­-Bissau, Dawn Starin noticed numerous public health billboards urging people to get tested for HIV or to practice safer sex by wearing condoms. One of the six poorest countries in the world, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, Guinea-Bissau faces an ongoing epidemic of HIV and AIDS. Prevalence is especially high in urban areas and among pregnant women and sex workers. Starin, a writer and a research associate in the department of anthropology at University College London, UK, was struck by the bright colors and larger-than-life figures in the billboards, and photographed several, including the one featured in the September Art of Nursing.

Are the billboards effective?  Starin writes, “Although the billboards are fabulous to look at, many health professionals I spoke with thought they exemplified time and money wasted, in part because of the high nationwide illiteracy rate.” One health worker emphasized the need for more culture-specific studies on sexual practices and tradition, so that appropriate education programs could be developed.

Starin has also photographed public art by Thongleum Damviengkum, a mixed-media artist whose work appeared in the April Art of Nursing. Damviengkum’s often witty pieces, intended to raise public awareness about HIV and AIDS and address the stigma associated with having the disease, are on display at a restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand. “Humor is important if you want people to listen,” he told Starin.

As always, Art of Nursing is free online (you’ll need to click through to the PDF files). We invite you to have a look and tell us what you think in the comments.

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2016-11-21T13:15:57+00:00 August 30th, 2010|Nursing|7 Comments

About the Author:

Former senior editor at AJN.

7 Comments

  1. Carla Bland November 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Because Guinea-Bissau faces an ongoing epidemic of HIV and AIDs I believe it’s beneficial to have public health billboards in numerous places to aid in informing the population of the importance of getting tested. Billboards tend to be “eye-catchers” and are actually a creative and innovative way to grasp the population’s attention. Each day, numerous people will encounter these “bright-colored” and “larger than life” billboards, reminding and influencing them to take the steps necessary to get tested for HIV/AIDS. It is for this reason that I do not agree with Starin who mentioned the billboards “exemplified time and money wasted, in part because of the high nationwide illiteracy rate.” From the looks of the billboards it seems that the artist had taken the illiteracy rate into consideration. The billboards were animated paintings of individuals getting tested and only contained few words. Even one who is unable to read would be able to decipher the message that is being conveyed just by looking at the picture. I actually admire this approach and would recommend the use of animated billboard paintings worldwide. A picture is worth 1000 words and many, including the illiterate will be impacted by the knowledge expressed through the paintings. More times than usual visual aids tend to be embedded into an individual’s memory and remembered for a longer period of time as opposed to the use of words and phrases that eventually become forgotten.

  2. Vanessa Hanna,RN April 18, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Billboards are excellent ways to use visual aids to impact a community. Most people learn with visual aids and many times billboards are remembered even days after they where seen. Bright colors, large letters and a catchy phrase will go noticed. Posting HIV/AIDS billboards around the world is an excellent way to spread the knowledge as well as “fear” into society. I truly believe people should fear sexually transmitted diseases and knowledge is the only way to spread the word. HIV/AIDS billboards can influence hundreds of people at one time. For example, everyday on 1-95 I see at least five HIV/AIDS billboards, two of which are the same. The use of repetetive billboards on a major expressway WILL influence hundreds of people on a daily basis; hence, protection will be used and frequent testing will take place. Countries around the world can use the billboards by projecting the culture and customs in the billboard. Using community based cutoms and beliefs will allow the natives to relate to the billboard. As for the health providers that believe that the billbaords are a waste of money due to ilteracy, pictures are an excellent way to teach.

  3. […] (here’s a blog post she wrote about them), are used to encourage people to get tested. A blog post by AJN senior editor Sylvia Foley about the column noted concerns some had expressed about these […]

  4. Fletcher RN April 17, 2011 at 1:58 am

    Living in a city and working for a public health care system where the population of HIV-AIDS rates is extremely high, this is definitely something that is very important to me because I stare at the effects of the disease on a weekly basis. I for one believe that educating the public in the subject of HIV-AIDS, is number one in prevention of this deadly disease. It is sad that due to high illiteracy rates of people in this country and other countries where illiteracy rates are high, cannot benefit from something that is as easily seen and accessible as a billboard. I mean what a great way to educate the public to be tested and aid in other means of prevention like condom usage. Unfortunately while trying to combat a deadly illness thru education, it is made that much tougher because the majority of the population lack education to begin with.
    My facility offers confidential testing and there are signs, billboards, magazine and newspaper ads, as well as other materials seen throughout our city indicating this. I get excited when I see people come for testing indicating that they have seen these public health ads and are able to benefit from them, which is what we strive to accomplish. It is very unfortunate this is not the same and as easy throughout the world.

  5. Jose B. April 14, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    I think using public health billboards in Guinea-Bissau to combat the epidemic of HIV-AIDS is a great tool to reach out to the community and create awareness. Creative billboards do in fact attract people’s attention especially when it’s something as important as getting tested for HIV and AIDS. I can speak from personal experience as one day I was driving down a major highway in Miami, Florida and saw a very creative billboard about getting tested. The message on the billboard stuck with me for days until I decided to get tested. These billboards may not motivate everyone to get tested but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that this billboard inspired to get tested. As far as the arguments about the billboards being a waste because of illiteracy concerns there are simple and creative ways to get a message across without using words. Just by looking at the picture of the public health billboard I could gather that it was a picture of someone getting tests.

  6. V. Campos, RN April 10, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    According the World Health Organization, HIV/AIDS was ranked as one of the top 10 causes of death in Guinea-Bissau. In 2002 it was estimating to be the cause of death of 7% of their population. Having this said, I find it quite motivating to see public health billboards urging the community to get tested for HIV/AIDS. This is a creative way to encourage the population to take action on such a serious matter. I think the idea of the billboards were great. However, I did noticed that you mentioned that a writer and research associate from the University of London stated that, “Although the billboards are fabulous to look at, many health professionals I spoke with thought they exemplified time and money wasted, in part because of the high nationwide illiteracy rate”. So I think that this population can still benefit from having public health billboards; however, they would have to be modified to use less textual information and more animations in order to convey their message.

  7. […] (Editor’s note: For more on Guinea-Bissau’s public health billboards, see this earlier post.) […]

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