The Austin Chronicle

About AIDS

By Sandy Bartlett, January 17, 2003, Columns

Truth Campaign: "HIV Is No Picnic"

The STOP AIDS Project in San Francisco has launched a cutting-edge HIV-prevention campaign in the Bay Area Reporter and on bus stop shelters that has citizens of the city abuzz.

"HIV Is No Picnic" is a stark, hard-hitting series of four ads that shows the more typical reality of living with HIV, rather than the idealized, optimistic images in drug-company ads. The campaign is designed to dispel a widely held perception among HIV-negative men that contracting HIV is no longer a big deal.

In each ad, an actual HIV-positive man exhibits the impact of a specific side effect of HIV or anti-HIV medication: bizarre fat deposits ("crix belly"), being on the pot with diarrhea, night sweats, gaunt wasting in the face. "Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to be alive," each guy assures us. "But HIV is no picnic."

Predictably, the ad campaign -- a type of "social marketing" -- has its opponents, including some HIV-positive people and their advocates. "You can't show that!" they clamor. "Why not?" ask the campaign's supporters. "It's the truth."

We're all for it. For two decades, we have catered only to the feelings of HIV-infected people, to the exclusion of addressing publicly the not-so-pretty realities of living with HIV/AIDS. However, in trying to sustain hope among HIVers, we have distorted the picture, and HIV-negative

young people just don't take AIDS seriously anymore.

The present medical reality is complex. No, HIV infection does not have to be a death sentence; hundreds of thousands of poz Americans are living productive lives of good quality, provided they get into care and, once begun, adhere to their medications. However, HIV and its very treatment cause significant problems, and AIDS often still causes death.

The ads are right: HIV is no picnic. Play safe!

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