Photo-novel leads to unique PhD

Dr Burt Davis

Three of the country’s greatest problems are intimately linked: drug abuse, crime and violence. Often in that order.

And this not only has an impact on the wellbeing of the country’s citizens, but inevitably also has a negative influence on the economy.

So to break this vicious cycle we need to address the core of the problem: drug abuse. This is precisely what Dr Burt Davis, lecturer at the Africa Centre for HIV/Aids Management at Stellenbosch University (SU), has done.

He realised that hackneyed methods of communicating knowledge and information often, perhaps even usually, fall on deaf ears. He undertook intensive research and came up with a first for South Africa.

Dr Davis received his doctoral degree last Thursday. For his degree, he designed a subtle and scientifically-founded photo-novel dealing with the health risks of using tik. It is titled Spyt kom te laat (“Better safe than sorry”), and has been tested in clinics and community centres in the Western Cape.

His supervisor was Professor Carl Jansen from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and an honorary professor at SU.

“Everyone knows that the scope of the problem of tik, particularly in the Western Cape, is absolutely enormous”, says Dr Davis. “I believe that education around this problem is the key to success.

“But if one looks at the pamphlets and brochures about tik at clinics and hospitals, there is often not much to choose from. Especially not in Afrikaans. And so I decided to do something about this myself.”

The photo-novel deals with a vicious cycle: how easily and “innocently” someone can fall into the habit of tik abuse; the criminal actions that follow from this; the tragic impact of this at home; and ultimately the arrest. And by then “it’s too late to be sorry”.

“I adopted an ‘entertainment-education’ or edutainment approach. People enjoy being entertained. By conveying a health message about tik in an entertaining way with a storyline and photographs, people learn about the tik problem without even realising it.”

He adds: “It does not help if one does academic research on a community, but it means nothing to the community. That’s why I want to try and make my photo-novel available free of charge to community leaders, schools and clinics – or whoever else is interested.

“But printing the booklets costs money. So what I need now is funding.”

He believes, and has demonstrated, that this approach to dealing with the evils of tik can work.

His findings have shown that people prefer the photo-novel over the more traditional brochures and that this can be an effective way of communicating health messages related to tik abuse to the community.