Obama Launches Media Blitz to Fight AIDS
The Obama administration yesterday launched a five year, $45 million media campaign to promote HIV and AIDS awareness, saying that Americans had grown complacent about the deadly illness.
"Act Against AIDS" will feature public service announcements, advertising placards on trains, buses and other modes of public transit, text messaging and a Web site, NineAndaHalfMinutes.org,a reference to the frequency with which 56,000 people a year are infected.
"There is a complacency ..... a false sense of security, and a false sense of calm," said Kevin Fenton, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Every nine and a half minutes someone's mother, someone's daughter, someone's father, someone's friend is infected."
Fenton said the aim of campaign, at a cost of $9 million a year, "is to put the HIV epidemic back on the front burner, on the radar screen." But the program was criticized as inadequate by a leading HIV/AIDS non-profit group.
White House Domestic Policy Director Melody Barnes said the District was a specific place of concern because of its AIDS problem. A recent study by the D.C. AIDS Administration that showed that the HIV and AIDS prevalence rate was at 3 percent.
The infection rate was 6.5 percent for black men in the District and 2.6 percent for black women.
Fenton said an estimated 1 in 5 people in the country who have HIV are not aware of it.
"There are approximately 1.2 million people in the U.S/ living with HIV/AIDS today. More than 300,000 of these individuals have never had an HIV test and therefore do not know their HIV status," said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "A $45 million dollar communications plan no matter how well intended will do little to help identify those 300,000 infected individuals who may unknowingly be infecting others."
Fenton said the campaign will initially target a group that nonprofit organizations overlooked for years as the disease spread -- African Americans. Black people comprise slightly more than 12 percent of the population, but represent nearly half of new HIV infections and nearly half of Americans living with the disease, according to the CDC. One in 16 black men will be stricken with the virus that causes AIDS in their lifetime, along with 1 in 30 black women.
A separate phase of the campaign will target Latinos who represent 15 percent of the country and 17 percent of new infections, according the CDC statistics. The rate of new infections among Latino men doubles the rate of white men, and the rate among Latino women is four times that of white women.
April 8, 2009; 6:45 AM ET
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