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Language and communication issues in HIV/AIDS intervention management in the South African construction industry: Interview survey findings

Peter Edwards (School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
Paul Bowen (Department of Construction Economics and Management, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa)

Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management

ISSN: 0969-9988

Article publication date: 28 February 2019

Issue publication date: 10 July 2019




Effective communication is a key factor in presenting Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) awareness and prevention campaigns, and delivering treatment programmes, particularly in South Africa where different ethnic groups and a diversity of languages and educational attainment levels are encountered. Language is an important element of such communication. The purpose of this paper is to examine the communication effectiveness of AIDS-related intervention messages.


Case-based semi-structured interviews, with 42 employees from three construction organisations, and with six telephone counsellors from a service provider, were used to explore language in the HIV/AIDS context in the construction industry in the Western Cape region.


Workers’ knowledge about HIV (a key element in prevention and willingness to engage in treatment regimes) tended to align with their level of education. African cultures may inhibit the use of plain language about AIDS. Graphic posters with text in different languages were the most preferred communication media, but need periodic refreshment to remain effective. For toolbox talks and other company presentations, a comprehensive approach to language differences is limited, and appropriate confirmatory feedback loops are not used – the message sent is not always the message received. The recruitment and training processes for service provider counsellors ensure a more comprehensive grasp of HIV knowledge and a more consistent approach to communication.

Practical implications

Construction organisations should be more careful in their HIV/AIDS campaigns and programmes, ensure better targeting of audiences and pay more nuanced and sensitive attention to language needs, gender differences and cultural contexts with respect to communicating with workers in ways that engage them more fully about HIV/AIDS, stigma and disclosure.


Communication effectiveness is pivotal in the provision of intervention management by construction firms. Ineffective language and communication processes directly and adversely influence HIV/AIDS intervention management success.



Conflict of interest: the authors report no conflict of interest. The authors alone are responsible for the content and writing of this manuscript.

Ethical clearance was obtained from the University of Cape Town. Participants were briefed on the nature of the study and assured that their participation was entirely voluntary and that they could withdraw such participation at their will. They were further assured that all responses would remain entirely anonymous and confidential. This work is based on research supported by the National Research Foundation of South Africa under Grant (UID) 85376. The grantholder acknowledges that opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in any publication generated by the NRF supported research are those of the authors, and that the NRF accepts no liability whatsoever in this regard.


Edwards, P. and Bowen, P. (2019), "Language and communication issues in HIV/AIDS intervention management in the South African construction industry: Interview survey findings", Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 26 No. 6, pp. 962-988.



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