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Commentary & Opinion

HIV/AIDS Prevention Campaigns Should Show Disease as "Living Hell," Opinion Piece Says

August 26, 2003

HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns should avoid depicting the disease as "so manageable" that young gay men begin to think that contracting HIV "doesn't matter" and instead show that living with the disease and the side effects of antiretroviral drug treatment is a "living hell," Michelangelo Signorile, author and former editor of the national gay magazine The Advocate, writes in a Long Island Newsday opinion piece. HIV/AIDS has been "glamorized" in advertising, causing the pain associated with the disease to be hidden and "forced into the closet in the gay community itself," he writes. According to Signorile, AIDS advocates have tried to combat the stigma associated with the disease by depicting HIV-positive gay and bisexual men as "healthy, attractive and successful," and pharmaceutical companies have marketed antiretroviral drugs by using "chiseled men climbing rocks or flexing as hot poster boys." Such images lead to increased risky behavior among men who have sex with men and could "turn back 20-some years of advancement on the AIDS front," Signorile says. Within the past year, the San Francisco-based Stop AIDS Project began a public service announcement campaign showing the painful effects of HIV/AIDS and side effects from antiretroviral drugs, he says, describing one ad, titled "Facial Wasting," that shows a man with a gaunt face saying that he looks "like a ghost" because of antiretroviral drug side effects. However, the campaign is only being run in San Francisco, he says. "The eerie absence of such reality advertising has taken a toll," Signorile says, noting that according to the latest statistics from the CDC, the number of newly reported HIV cases among men who have sex with men has risen 17% since 1999. He adds that "a radical new vision like that of San Francisco's Stop AIDS Project is vital right now" nationwide. Signorile concludes that although the depiction of a disease as a "bad thing" should not be "radical," the "highly-charged issues surrounding AIDS have never been that simple" (Signorile, Long Island Newsday, 8/25).

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Reprinted with permission from You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by The Advisory Board Company. © 2003 by The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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