Travelling with public transport in Brussels, one often sees posters sponsored by Plate-Forme Prévention SIDA, an organization that, as the name suggests, wants to help people to avoid infecting themselves with HIV/AIDS.
Certainly, if the organization has that intention, it is a laudable one that merits our full support. The question is, however, whether the poster campaign launched by the is really apt to achieve the stated purpose.
Generally, the focus seems to be set not so much on prevention, but rather on social inclusion and non-discrimination. That intention is as such not wrong. Also, it is absolutely correct to say that the fact that they are HIV positive does not mean that Sébastien could not work as a bar tender, or that Marie could not have a baby. The public needs to be informed that HIV is passed on through the exchange of body liquids, and that being served a drink by an HIV-positive bartender does not pose any risks for them. They need to be informed that nowadays it is possible to prevent the passing on of HIV from an HIV-positive mother to her child.
On the other hand, neither of the two posters contains any information about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted, and what one should do to protect oneself. In other words, the stated purpose of AIDS prevention is not served.
But it is the third poster that is truly astonishing:
“Malik is happy. He will soon get married. However, he has gone through a series of break-ups when he told that he is HIV-positive”
So, Malik is going to get married. With whom?
If “marriage” is understood in the usual sense of the word, we may suppose that he will marry a woman, and that that marriage has a procreative purpose. But how is that woman going to protect herself against infection with HIV/AIDS? Will the couple have no sex, or will it use condoms? If so, how will the procreative purpose of marriage be served? If they will have sex without condoms, is it not nearly a certainty that the woman will sooner or later catch the HI-virus? And how does that square with the purpose of preventing AIDS? (In the meantime, we wonder, what is Malik doing with this other guy in his bed??)
If by contrast, as the image suggests, the marriage is going to be a same-sex “marriage”, then it obviously can have no procreative purpose. The poster thus seems to suggest, but does not spell it out with commendable clarity, that Malik’s partner in debauchery will try to protect himself through the use of condoms.
Either way, if the purpose of the poster is to contribute to the prevention of new infections with HIV/AIDS, it should provide full and correct information. By necessity, that would include the information that condoms only provide a rather limited protection, and that having sexual intercourse with an HIV-positive “sex partner”, albeit with condoms, will sooner or later result in the virus being transmitted. In particular, if that “partner” is of the same sex.
The problem with this kind of poster campaign is that it not only does not inform people correctly about how to prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS, but indeed – by omitting key information – it misinforms them. It promotes the very behaviour that is responsible for the spreading of the disease that the campaign purports to prevent. If, as a result of this poster someone believes there is no risk in having sexual intercourse with an HIV-positive man and as a result catches the virus, the makers and sponsors of this poster campaign will be directly responsible.
Besides that, we have reason to wonder whether the poster is not promoting an exaggerated and distorted concept of “non-discrimination”. When a man tells you that he is HIV-positive, it is perfectly legitimate and reasonable to discontinue, or to not engage in, a sexual relationship with him: nobody is obliged to put his own health at a grave risk only to satisfy the sexual appetite of another person. But the poster conveys the opposite message:if your sex-partner tells you he is HIV-positive, you should continue having sex with him.
Suggesting that such a break-up is discriminatory and heartless conveys an absolutely false idea of “solidarity”.
As a result, this poster campaign is utterly irresponsible and dangerous. It is shameful that the Government of the Belgian region of Wallonia appears to have co-financed it. AIDS prevention campaigns must be based on truthful information, otherwise they will be counterproductive.
Maybe it is precisely because of campaigns such as this one that HIV/AIDS still exists.