A new HIV prevention ad depicts life with HIV as a horror show.
The top brass in New York City's Department of Health is defending a controversial ad that uses rotting brains, decaying bones and bleeding anuses to convince young men to use condoms.
"I am completely comfortable with what we put out here. I have talked with many young men who are HIV positive," said Dr. Monica Sweeney, assistant commissioner for the city's Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control. "This is not fabricated. These are real conditions that affect people even though their viral load might be under control."
The ad has pitted those who are offended by its scare tactics and call the campaign dishonest against those who think the video's shock value could prevent the spread of HIV.
"I reject portraying my life -- 15 years and counting with HIV -- as a hellish nightmare," said Jim Pickett, advocacy director at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. "Has it been tough? Yes ... Living with HIV is challenging, but it is not one big long scream of agony for most of us. But nuance isn't eye catching or sexy, is it?"
While the video's shadowy imagery and morose-looking characters raise questions about taste, its claims are based in fact. Men who have sex with men account for 44 percent of newly diagnosed HIV infections in the city each year. The number of new diagnoses among those under 30 has skyrocketed from 489 in 2001 to 747 last year. According to Sweeney, the ad was developed after city health officials met with several focus groups consisting of men who have sex with men.
The ad posits that those with HIV are at higher risk of osteoporosis and dementia, and are more than 28 times more likely to get anal cancer. Research does show that those with HIV appear to be far more prone to low bone density than HIV-negative counterparts of the same age. And while the frequency of dementia caused by HIV has declined since the advent of HAART, cognitive disorders continue to have significant impact on many of those infected, according to doctors at the University of California San Diego. The city grabbed the statistic about anal cancer from this article in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
"Showing that HIV comorbidities exist is not fear-mongering," said Mark Peterson, program director at Michigan Positive Action Coalition. "... I freely admit to the devastation that HIV has brought into my life and the lives of my friends. I think to hide and sugar coat this has added to the myths regarding the 'miracle benefits' of ART."
And while some fault the ad's lack of tact, it's worth noting that New York has successfully employed some fairly nasty imagery to change behavior. In 2006, officials launched an anti-smoking campaign that depicted horrific images of the brain, lungs and arteries and featured testimony from dying smokers and their children. Smoking rates plummeted, and several studies said the ads played a huge role.
"When you sit where I sit, and you know that HIV is going up among men who have sex with men who are under 30 ... You know we can't keep doing the same things we've been doing," said Sweeney. "This is an effort to get a conversation going. HIV is not a death sentence, but it is a life sentence."
The ad will run on cable and broadcast television for the next month. What do you think? Is the piece honest? Do fear tactics help stop the spread of HIV or do just propagate stigma? Is this what NYC needs? Share your opinions here.
This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
Comment by: john
Mon., Dec. 20, 2010 at 10:09 am EST
it will have a modest effect at best. how long have americans known that obesity is not healthy? How long have americans continued smoking, especially the under 30 crowd. and the biggest rhetorical questin is: when did young people become significantly suggestable?
Comment by: Randy
Fri., Dec. 17, 2010 at 6:41 pm EST
So many people are falling all over themselves to justify this ad because they think young gay men need to hear how damaging the virus is. From the women involved in this campaign to the older gay men who justify it, I've seen a lot of people who aren't young or gay voice some pretty condescending suggestions as to why we need to tell gay men what will happen. As a young gay man who knew the consequences and still tested poz, I'm wondering if any of you have thought to stop telling us things and start asking why we test poz? I suspect that a legitimate effort-as in more than focus groups and heresay- hasn't really been made. If you want justification for your own failing public health campaigns, by all means continue business as usual. If you want to stop the plague though, you may want to think outside the box.
Comment by: mark s.
(key west, FL)
Fri., Dec. 17, 2010 at 2:18 pm EST
I think the ad is great. Young people don't know the terror of the 80's.
What this add portrays may not be the experience of all Poz people, but in the end, death will be the experience Poz people will have. Scare them negative guys, do whatever it takes. Tey this tactic.
The heck with Poz guys being offended. Rather have that than another guy catching HIV from unsafe sex with an unsafe Poz guy. I may sound harsh but I am Poz and I know not all Poz guys are safe. Scare the negative guys!
Comment by: anna
Fri., Dec. 17, 2010 at 12:29 pm EST
i found nothing offensive to this film. its the "TRUTH" people wake up. you want to know what happens when you are not protected because refraining from sex is a "no no " to you. well here it is plain and simple. just cause you don't want to face it because you are having sex maybe unprotected well sorry but this is it.......this is life and i would want my loved one to know exactly what he is getting into reguardless how bad it looks. that way its "his choice".
Comment by: John E.
(St. Louis, MO)
Fri., Dec. 17, 2010 at 11:40 am EST
Like the German ad putting Hitler's face on an HIV+ man, Sweeny's ad is a major advance in the war against HIV+ people. Turning their back on gay men was not enough. (Just try to find the word "gay" in a public health message these days - we're just MSMs now.) Gay men, gay sex and HIV+ men must be demonized and demoralized. Better to drive HIV+ people to suicide than have real HIV prevention and pay for PrEP meds. This ad is like gasoline on the fire of the depression and suicide epidemic among gay men, and especially among poz men. Sweeney and her kind should not only be fired, they should be drummed out of the profession. And if I had my way with them, it would be much worse. We need ACT UP now more than we have since the '80s.
Comment by: Luis
Fri., Dec. 17, 2010 at 11:08 am EST
I think this Campaign is offensive to a segment of our society that has worked so hard to break the stigma. I don't think this is honest. This is not what most people's lives living with HIV/AIDS looked like. Think about the impact that these scare tactics will have in the way those living with HIV/AIDS will be seen as. If this is the way the NYC Dept of Health see us, they should put us all in a concentration camp and get rid of us, rather than making our lives worse by stigmatizing our lives, and what truly is currently like, to live with this virus. Nothing tells "don't get tested" as this ad.
Comment by: steve j
Fri., Dec. 17, 2010 at 6:33 am EST
i think this ad is important because so many young men are getting infected on purpose so they "won't have to worry about getting it " now they will see what it REALLY looks like and hopefully be careful !!! the other ads soft sell so as to not scare anyone, youth today aren't afraid because they didn't live thru the 8o's watching all their friends die, i did.
Comment by: dave
Thu., Dec. 16, 2010 at 11:16 pm EST
Interesting video. Curious about the mixed messages that the medical community advance. On one hand we see the comorbid diseases associated with HIV; on the other hand the IOP is making it more difficult to receive SSD benefits. No, HIV is no picnic so why aren't medical folks more supportive with justifying financial help e.g. SSD and other programs?????
Comment by: edfu
Thu., Dec. 16, 2010 at 9:34 pm EST
It's about time the truth is told. HIV-positives today may have been saved from the deadly opportunistic infections of the early years of the epidemic by HAART, but they are now beginning to see the ramifications of long-time (and, in some cases, relatively brief) HIV infection and/or antiretroviral use. There has been much recent (but only recent) observation and interest in the hastening and acceleration of the aging process among HIV-positives: brain fog, neurocognitive difficulties, cardiovascular problems, bone problems, co-morbidities and cancers (lung, liver, anal, lymphoma, etc.). It is possible that 30-, 40-, 50-, and 60-year-old bodies are succumbing to the medical depredations of 80-year-olds.
Sure it's true that osteoporosis is a disease of the elderly, but what is it when it keeps occuring in relatively young HIV-positives? Full-blown dementia may no longer be as prominent as it was, but what is it when so many HIV-positives are beginning to complain of "brain fog"? Yes, anal cancer is caused by HPV, but why are there now 174 annual cases per 100,000 among HIV-positive gay men, but 40 cases per 100,000 among HIV-negative gay men, and 2 per 100,000 in the general population? It used to take many years for anal cancer to develop from HPV-related lesions; now the many years have become few.
It is disgraceful that GMHC and GLAAD are condemning this video campaign. I remember in 1982 when GMHC, opposed to promoting safer-sex campaigns, said that "we can't tell people how to have sex." They have truly learned nothing.
Comment by: Jose
Thu., Dec. 16, 2010 at 8:30 pm EST
I live with HIV and HIV is almost never spoke about anymore and for most gay men - its simply seen as "you get sick, you take a pill, everything is back to normal again." You open ANY gay magazine and the HIV medication ads feature happy hunky men looking fresh out of the gym - sure its a positive thing (no pun intended)- but it severely underplays this disease. True you are not in any "agony" BUT HIV/AIDS does take a toll physically, emotionally and financially.
Comment by: Robert Breining
Wed., Dec. 15, 2010 at 5:00 pm EST
I feel this is a good honest video campaign because far to many people have the mind set that HIV is nothing to worry about since we have all the new medications available in 2010. They think "Oh I will just take a pill " This plants a seed in the mind of those people that HIV is and always will be more then HIV.
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