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Sources: Nancy Muturi, 785-532-3890, nmuturi@k-state.edu;
and Drew Morris, amorris@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Tyler Sharp, 785-532-2535, tmsharp@k-state.edu

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

BRINGING IT HOME: HEALTH COMMUNICATOR SPREADS KNOWLEDGE, IMPROVES LIVES THROUGH HIV/AIDS RESEARCH

MANHATTAN -- Nancy Muturi has not forgotten her roots in her efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS.

Muturi, associate professor of journalism and mass communications at Kansas State University, has returned to her native Kenya on several occasions to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The East African nation borders the Indian Ocean and is well known for its struggles with the HIV/AIDS virus.

Muturi still has family in Kenya, so she tries to visit the country every two years. She focuses her research on rural Kenya because of the lack of knowledge with common health issues. Few researchers choose to visit such remote areas, but Muturi enjoys documenting the stories of those people affected by HIV/AIDS.

Preconceived notions about HIV/AIDS have been challenged in the process. A recently published study by Muturi and Sam Mwangi, assistant professor of journalism and mass communications at K-State, examined how adults 65 and older were being infected with HIV/AIDS at a higher rate despite their lower risk of infection. A primary cause was transactional sex, often committed by financially stable older men with younger women who need financial support. The older men were usually married, thus explaining why older women were also becoming afflicted. The study examined possible communication strategies for preventing the spread of the disease. The results were published in Health Communication, a top journal in the field.

Muturi commonly shares the results of her research with relevant parties.

"Most of the research has been widely read in Kenya and other developing countries, and I assume it's playing a role in the implementation of HIV/AIDS prevention programs," she said. "I know that because I get contacted about my research from the various practitioners who are using it."

Muturi furthered her research on a recent trip to Kenya. She collaborated with Sarah Cardey from the University of Reading in the United Kingdom on a project examining gender and HIV/AIDS policies and how organizations implement them. Cardey and Muturi also examined how each gender receives messages about HIV/AIDS and what is necessary for maximum effectiveness.

Muturi says there's been a constant demand for education about her research topics.

"Unfortunately, I can't do that on a larger scale since I'm there as a researcher and not a practitioner," she said. "By publishing the research and sharing it with those on the ground, we hope that our recommendations are acceptable and applicable in dealing with the health issues."

The epidemic levels of HIV/AIDS in rural Kenya are matched by alcoholism. Countries around Africa have similar trends, though the levels are highest in rural areas lacking access to health care and health information. Muturi is collaborating with Karatu Kiemo of the University of Nairobi to examine the possible links between the two epidemics. Muturi's research and travel were supported by a study abroad grant from K-State's African studies program and partial support from the office of sponsored programs' university small research grant.

Drew Morris, a master' s student in journalism and mass communications, Manhattan, accompanied Muturi on her latest trip to Kenya and conducted similar research for a class project. Morris kept a video log of the experience along with helping Muturi collect information on alcoholism in Kenya. His interests in health communication only increased with the research experience in Kenya.

"Health communication offers a unique way to use my journalism skills and graduate education to help as many people as I can," Morris said. "While I have training in the basics of mass communications, such as broadcast media, print media and Internet media, I also have experience in the theoretical and research fields. This will enable me to create health communication campaigns from the ground up."

Though communicators are limited in terms of providing support and care for those afflicted by HIV/AIDS, it doesn't stop Muturi from becoming involved. A witness to the demise of many families and to individual successes, Muturi said she is fulfilled by her experiences spreading knowledge about the disease to rural populations. She knows she is making a difference.

"I get involved because I understand that the major problem with the growing epidemic is with communication and behavior change, which can easily be achieved with commitment at various levels," Muturi said. "I want to see a world free of AIDS and all the suffering it causes."