A new $450,000 campaign is aiming to promote safer sex and HIV/AIDS testing among Ontario’s African and Caribbean communities.
The campaign, run by the Toronto-based African And Caribbean Council On HIV/AIDS In Ontario (ACCHO) and funded by the provincial government, was launched on Jun 8 and will run throughout the summer. It consists of posters and ads that will appear on billboards, subways and bus shelters, and in print and on-line media in cities including Toronto and the GTA, Ottawa, Hamilton, London, St Catharines, Windsor and Sudbury.
“We were concerned that the prevalence of HIV and AIDS was rising among those communities and there hadn’t yet been a campaign to address that,” says ACCHO cochair Winston Husbands, also the director of research and program development at the AIDS Committee Of Toronto.
“The current best estimates are that there are 25,000 people with HIV/AIDS in Ontario. Thirteen percent of those are from Africa and the Caribbean, even though they’re only five percent of Ontario’s population.”
Husbands says there are a number of issues, including high unemployment, housing problems and racism, that make the African-Caribbean community especially vulnerable to the disease. The campaign is focussing on three issues: stigma, safer sex and the importance of prompt testing.
“There is a huge stigma around HIV. Associated with that is homophobia. I’m not suggesting that people from Africa and the Caribbean are more homophobic, but we have to deal with it. There’s the idea that if someone is HIV-positive, they might as well be dead. Or if you are infected with HIV, you must have been a bad person. We wanted to say you might be wrong about who you might think has HIV.”
The posters, designed by the Toronto firm Top Drawer Creative Inc after a series of phone surveys and focus groups, features a number of photos taken by local black photographers. Howard Chang, the president of Top Drawer, says the campaign is trying to show that HIV can affect everybody.
“We cast two young black gay males and they went right down to their stomping grounds at Church and Wellesley. The headline was ‘Love: Keep It Alive.’ Another scenario was a family from sub-Saharan Africa, a father, mother, sister, brother. The header was ‘Family: Keep It Alive.’
“There’s one with two young girls sitting on a bench. It says ‘Friendship: Keep It Alive.’ For the subway, there’s a picture of a 13-or 14-year-old girl, with her arms crossed, looking at the camera. It says ‘Self-respect: Keep It Alive.’
Chang says the hope is that the posters will help to break down some stereotypes.
“If we put a family ad in a Caribbean community and really emphasized testing, that would send a real message.”