17 August 2018

The challenge of creating new communication tools that could help prevent drug abuse, was the topic of “Science Fridays @Stellenbosch” on 17 August 2017. Dr Burt Davis, a researcher at the Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management at Stellenbosch University, shared his PhD research journey.

Based on his childhood fascination with comics and cartoon characters and a desire to do a meaningful and practical PhD study, Dr Davis decided to explore the use of ‘fotonovelas’ – as a form of ‘edutainment’ that could interest people in health messages.

In fotonovelas, also called graphic novels, stories are told via photos and speech bubbles. In particular, Davis wanted to explore the use of this communication tool to help prevent the abuse of methamphetamine (or “tik”) in the Western Cape. His fotonovela “Spyt kom te laat” (English: “Regret comes too late”) was developed with the help of a graphic designer, photographer, cartoonist and a ‘tik consultant’.

Comparing the fotonovela with standard information brochures, Davis did not find that fotonovelas were significantly better in terms of helping people gain new knowledge, but the fotonovela was a more powerful tool for stimulating conversations about drug abuse. He also found that when the fotonovela was placed alongside standard brochures in a clinic waiting room, patients preferred to take home the fotonovela.