Advocates Speak Up About
Straight Message of HIV Ads

Once again, a New York City public awareness campaign clashes with activists and community groups whose cause it is supposed to support. This out-of-step ritual was on display recently over the amount of salt and sugar New Yorkers should be consuming (much less) and whether smoking is a public issue or a freewill lifestyle decision (it’s both).
And it’s all been played out in graphic advertisements shown mostly on YouTube and other straight-to-consumer media outlets, but hardly on the mainstream media. The effect though has been the same: advocates split over their efficiency and the city usually has to retreat, once it all becomes another arm wrestling and the message gets lost in the finger pointing.
The latest battle is being fought over a campaign about the risks of HIV, the virus that causes Aids. A still lethal disease with a gruesome regime of pill taking and rigorous controlled behavior, it’s been dangerously perceived as of lately as a minor discomfort by a demographics particularly vulnerable to it, under-20 youth.
But whether negative ads will propel a change of personal behavior or aggravate it is not what’s the most important at stake here. For instance, veteran Aids advocates see the need to first de-stigmatize it and its past association with a no longer truthful gay lifestyle, for any campaign to be effective.
On the other hand, proponents of a direct approach want to bring to the fore the devastation the disease is still capable of inflicting, and the limits of currently available therapies, compared to prevention and education.
In the end, a balanced mix of both approaches should be part of any renewed effort at tackling a public health issue that cuts such a swath through lower and uneducated classes, with increasingly rarer exceptions.
But in African and Middle Eastern countries, for example, Aids is still perceived as nothing short of a plague, as it’s proactively used against woman and minority rights. It’s often part of the brutal political subjugation arsenal that warring factions won’t hesitate to use against enemies, along with mass rape and dismemberment.
So, taking in perspective, the fight over methods to catch people’s attention toward this or that disease is really parochial and beside the point. Much harder is to use whatever means are available to address Aids’s underlining currents of poverty, addiction, political oppression, critical illiteracy and so on. In other words, it’s still time to act it up just like they used to say it in New York 30 years ago.

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* Fading HIV

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