Art for Life launches shocking new AIDS campaign

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A shocking new AIDS campaign comparing risky behavior to suicide aims to remind Czechs that the danger of HIV infection has not gone away. The NGO Art for Life, which is behind the campaign, says that the public, which has long grown careless of the danger, needs to be jolted into awareness of what is at stake.

The voice of a well known Czech singer, Bara Basikova, who is the face of the new campaign called Watch Out warns Czechs that AIDS is in effect a painful way of committing suicide. Bringing the message home is a series of shocking billboards showing suicide in graphic detail: a man lying in a bathtub with his wrists slashed, a woman with her head in a gas oven, a man who has committed suicide by hanging. It is the first big AIDS campaign in 15 years and a recent survey commissioned by Art for Life shows just how sorely it is needed.

According to the results 82 percent of respondents do not consider AIDS to be a threat. A third of respondents admitted that they do not use condoms when having casual sex, a fifth of respondents are not sure if the disease can be transmitted by kissing.

Bara Basikova, a mother of three, says she agreed to be the face of the campaign when she learnt about the outcome of the survey.

“I was shocked to find how many people do not consider AIDS to be a danger, how careless they are and unaware of the risks involved.”

Bára Basiková
The head of Art for Life Martin Kamen says the careless attitude of the public with regard to the threat was what made them select shock-therapy when discussing what form the campaign should take.

“We really needed to jolt the public into awareness, into realizing what exactly they are risking and the decision to present risky behavior as a form of suicide was logical because in a way that is exactly what the illness brings –it leads to a slow and painful death.”

Since 1986 when the Czech health authorities started testing for HIV, there have been 1,613 registered cases of the virus, of that 1,312 men and 301 women. 334 people have developed full-blown AIDS and 175 people have died. The vast majority of those infected with HIV contracted the virus through unprotected sex. Although in comparison with other European countries these statistics are not alarming doctors say that in view of the careless attitude of the public and the scant interest there is in getting tested the number of infected persons could in reality be two or three times higher. In Slovenia which two years ago had similar statistics as the Czech Republic the number of HIV infected persons has suddenly quadrupled.

People involved in the fight against AIDS say that their main problem is money – the government has slashed funds on the grounds that the statistics do not give serious cause for concern and as Lukas Sapik from Art for Life explains while most people do not consider AIDS to be a threat to themselves the stigma surrounding it is certainly present when it comes to approaching sponsors.

“We do have some partners, but not many because a lot of companies to not want to be linked with such a campaign. They fear that it could harm their reputation to be linked to this problem.”

The WATCH OUT campaign will appear on a number of commercial televisions, Czech Radio and cinemas around the country over the next three months.