People are talking! There have been controversial discussions about the new public service announcement (PSA) “It’s Never Just HIV”(click here to watch).
This PSA was released by the New York City Health Department to target gay men with the goal of increasing condom use. It features graphic images depicting what health conditions could be developed as a result of living with HIV.
The New York City Health Department has evoked a lot of emotionally charged opinions through this PSA, which are divided by those who agree with the graphic message and those who strongly oppose it. Those who are for the PSA’s messaging style feel that it is an effective educational tool as it strongly promotes prevention. Many believe an HIV PSA message should be in your face, as HIV is a serious disease. Some long term survivors and individuals who lost friends to the virus in the early days, believe that younger generations are not scared of contracting HIV anymore, that the fear of contraction has been lost. Advocates for this PSA also believe that indulging the perception that HIV is easily manageable needs to be examined, because living with HIV and taking medications is not really that easy at all.
Other arguments which defend this PSA believe that scare tactics and fear based messaging actually helped to change behaviors in the 80’s so why wouldn’t it work now? In their opinion, people should take HIV seriously, as seriously as presented in this PSA.
The opposing argument to the messaging strategy around “It’s Never Just HIV”, feel this ad is stigmatizing and demonizing. They believe the PSA singles out gay men and increases feelings of guilt and shame towards being gay and/or engaging in anal sex. There has been much discussion around the idea that effective prevention messaging should not engage in fear mongering, but instead go beyond condom use; there are much larger behavioral and societal issues that should be addressed when the dealing with why some individuals won’t use condoms. This group also believes the PSA creates a false sense of what it is actually like for people who are living with HIV and are able to live long, healthy lives. Those who oppose the harsh images and tone of the PSA also argue the ad will deter people from getting tested and could deter people living with HIV from taking their medications for fear of stigma and discrimination.
As an AIDS Service Organization who is engaged in prevention and support work, we at AIDS Calgary recognize there is a fine line of how to present certain messaging and engage our audience. It is important that people who are HIV negative understand the realities of living with HIV and how serious the effects of HIV are. On the other hand, it is important to promote that HIV has changed, it is no longer a death sentence and if you are living with HIV or newly diagnosed, there is every opportunity to live a full and healthy life.
This is a controversial subject and as a whole we’ve yet to figure out how to ensure both of these messages are being communicated and heard.
We’d love to hear from you! What do you think of the ad? Will the message work and promote condom use?
This blog article was written by our Community Strategies Team Leader.