In the News, Interpersonal Communication , , , ,

Can gossip help prevent HIV and AIDS?

A journal project is using rural Kenyans and Malawians’ gossip to find out their attitudes about sex, relationships and HIV and AIDS. The research is then analyzed to determine how people in communities employ their social networks to discuss and inform about their dating lives in general, and how this plays into them preventing contracting HIV.

The project started when Dr. Susan Watkins, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and current research scientist at the California Center for Population Research through the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted research about HIV and AIDS using surveys. But she found as an outsider, people weren’t being open and honest with her about sex. Dr. Watkins and researchers then hired local individuals to keep journals documenting what people said about sex and its relation to HIV and AIDS, as the virus and disease play a large role in who people choose to date and sleep with in the communities.

After turning the information gathering over to those who were from the areas, Dr. Watkins and colleagues ended up with thousands of pages documenting conversations—held in schools, bars, stores and other venues— about sex and dating. The Malawian non-governmental organization Invest in Knowledge has catalogued the journals, and the project was recently featured on the This American Life radio program.

We also want to know, what do you think about this community-based, informal approach to gathering research? Can these journals give us insight into HIV’s transmission and possibly prevention? And what can documenting these candid conversations mean for stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS?

Image courtesy WP Clipart