HIV-Aids is not a subject that people are too keen to talk about, but for Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha talking about the pandemic and convincing the media to publish more stories on the subject are part of his daily job. Sicwetsha is a communications officer for the Eastern Cape Aids Council (ECAC).
The purpose of the council is to advise the Eastern Cape provincial government on all matters pertaining to HIV-Aids and to ensure that programmes are implemented and reach the right audience.
A communications officer coordinates the promotion of products, services and public image of an organisation, which might include the publication of press releases, brochures and related material.
Sicwetsha's main task as a communications officer at the ECAC is to promote the government's programmes to the nation and the world at large.
To ensure that this is happening, every morning and throughout the day he reads newspapers, checks websites and listens to the radio to monitor how much coverage HIV-Aids is receiving. He then puts together a media analysis report for the chief executive of the ECAC.
The greatest challenge for Sicwetsha is getting the media to latch on to the idea that there are positive Aids stories that their readers and audiences would be interested in hearing about.
To convince the media that positive stories exist, he develops creative concepts that later translate into massive communication campaigns. These campaigns must make sense to people from all walks of life.
"People are tired of hearing the same boring message about Aids, so I have to be creative to make sure that I package the information I send to the media in a fresh and creative manner," says Sicwetsha.
The ability to analyse the interests of readers, viewers and listeners of all types of media is important so that the commu-nication officer can package information accordingly.
A communications officer must develop and maintain a strong relationship with the media. If Sicwetsha feels that messages on HIV-Aids are not being covered adequately in the media, then he must liaise with journalists and media agencies and coax them for more coverage.
"They call us spin doctors because we work extra hard to show the media that information they might only see as a public relations exercise is actually something that is really newsworthy," he says.