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International News

Fighting Disease With Hope in South Africa

May 19, 2003

Most teenagers in Orange Farm township in Johannesburg know the words to "The Greatest" by U.S. star R. Kelly. LoveLife, a South African HIV/AIDS group, has seized upon the song's message about "thriving when your back is against the wall" in its efforts to fight the epidemic among young people. LoveLife's unusual strategy is to promote hopefulness and fun rather than to ram home the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS. David Harrison, its CEO, believes young South Africans will only change their sexual behavior if they find greater optimism. What they do not need, he insists, is the morbid message that they have emerged from apartheid into a plague.

LoveLife's brightly colored advertisements and pamphlets have made it the most visible HIV/AIDS campaign in South Africa. It runs 13 community radio stations, 15 youth centers and a toll-free sex advice line. It is allied with about 60 nongovernmental organizations and is working with large employers like South Africa Airways and Anglo American.

With a budget of about R400 million (US$55 million), LoveLife is one of the best-endowed nongovernmental groups. Its backers include the Kaiser Foundation, a U.S.-based medical research body, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the South African government and UNICEF.

LoveLife is only three years old, but Harrison said about 62 percent of the population has been exposed to its campaigns. He forecasts its message could drive down infections by 30 percent in five years.

Critics, however, say LoveLife's message plays into the hands of the government, which controversially resists treating AIDS with antiretroviral drugs. They also fear that positive thinking may only temporarily mask a 40 percent unemployment rate and the great gap between rich and poor. The National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS, a rival activist group, has criticized LoveLife's media campaign as confusing and out of touch.

Back to other CDC news for May 19, 2003

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Adapted from:
Financial Times (London)
05.12.03; James Lamont

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More on HIV Prevention in South Africa