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Demonizing HIV

By Gary Bell

September 10, 2009

AIDS activists have been buzzing lately about a new German HIV awareness advertisement depicting a woman having sex with Adolph Hitler. By now, I am sure you are wondering: what does the Fuhrer have to do with AIDS? Well, in the ad, which is available online, a heterosexual couple is seen having sex. The man's face becomes that of Adolph Hitler followed by a slogan describing AIDS as a "mass murderer. Print versions of the campaign also use Saddam Hussein as well as other despots. The company that created the campaign, Das Comitee, defended the advertisement stating that it was meant to show "the ugliness of the illness."

I understand the philosophy of using 'shock value' to get people's attention. It's discomforting to realize that in 2009, we have to 'shock' people to make them aware of HIV/AIDS. However, the designers of this campaign are obviously missing something and it underscores the danger of developing public awareness campaigns in a vacuum -- without vetting them with a diverse audience, especially people living with HIV. Now, I don't know for sure if that was done. However, given the tremendous stigma associated with HIV, I would hope that someone would have realized that many people viewing the ad would associate the people living with HIV with these dictators. Despite good intentions, it's the wrong message!

Warning: This video contains offensive imagery, graphic sex and nudity.

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Transition to Hope


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Transition to Hope

This year marks Bell's 14th as the executive director of the Philadelphia-based BEBASHI (Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health), founded in 1985 as the nation's first AIDS organization serving African Americans with HIV. Bell has been widely praised, not only for increasing funding and accountability at a time when HIV donations have plummeted, but also for launching such innovative programs as a women's initiative, prison-discharge planning, and, most recently, a diabetes intervention.

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