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Innovative approach to battling tik abuse receives boost
Author: Pia Nänny
Published: 09/09/2019

​​The phenomenon of using photo storybooks (fotonovelas) to address health issues in South Africa has shown significant promise and thanks to a grant he received from the Division of Social Impact at Stellenbosch University (SU), Dr Burt Davis will now be able to conduct an empirical research project to further determine its effectiveness.

Davis, a senior lecturer at the Africa Centre for HIV/Aids Management at SU, received his doctoral degree in 2017 by designing an Afrikaans photo storybook called “Spyt kom te laat" (“Regret comes too late") which deals with the health risks of using tik (crystal meth).

The use of photo novels to address health issues is especially popular in the USA and Davis hypothesised that it could be used effectively in a local context as well.

Because he wanted to move away from a theoretical PhD and design a product that offered a direct benefit to the community, Davis decided to focus on the development of a photo storybook that could form part of awareness and prevention campaigns in schools and health clinics.

“In South Africa, many products that convey health messages are developed without being empirically and scientifically tested. This photo novel is one of few products that wasn't only carefully thought out and planned, but also tested."

Since receiving his PhD, Davis has developed the photo storybook even further by adding more information in a Q&A format to increase its efficiency and versatility.

He applied for a grant from the Division of Social Impact with the aim of expanding this innovative approach to battle tik use in the Witzenberg local municipality specifically. To this end, the storybook has been translated into English and isiXhosa.

“The expanded initiative combines an empirical research project with a social impact intervention. The approach entails testing the effectiveness of a health-related photo storybook to communicate dangers associated with tik use, while also using it as an educational resource to disseminate prevention and health information about the drug," says Davis.

The empirical research component of the initiative entails a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to test the effects of the message while the social impact component includes the presentation of general substance abuse awareness and information sessions to the participants of the RCT using the photo storybook.

Partners in this project include the Africa Centre for HIV/Aids Management and the Language Centre at SU, as well as representatives of the Department of Health and NGO sector.

“Feedback from the community led to my decision to expand the quantitative aspect of my research to include a qualitative element. We don't only want to contribute to the body of knowledge on health communication methods related to tik/substance abuse, but also increase general awareness about and knowledge levels related to substance abuse and enable access to tik prevention information under the broader community," adds Davis.

He has presented several talks about his research, among others at the VIOT (Vereniging Interuniversitair Overleg Taalbeheersing) conference in the Netherlands and the South African Medical Research Council's biannual symposium on drug use, and co-published a paper titled “Using a fotonovela to battle crystal meth in South Africa" in the Journal of ethnicity in substance abuse.

He has also been approached to be involved in the development of a similar project about diabetes.