WASHINGTON, April 7 (Reuters) - U.S. officials launched a AIDS awareness campaign on Tuesday they said would focus on the groups most likely to be infected, starting with black men and women and later targeting Latinos and others.
Several studies have shown that AIDS prevention messages are not getting through to the people who need to hear them most, and officials said they would try harder.
The campaign focuses on one statistic — that every 9 1/2 minutes on average another American becomes infected with the incurable virus.
Officials from the White House, Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the campaign would use video, audio, print and online advertising at http://www.NineAndaHalfMinutes.org to urge people to abstain from sex or use condoms, and to talk frankly about the risks of HIV with sexual partners.
“Our goal is to remind Americans that HIV/AIDS continues to pose a serious health threat in the United States and encourage them to get the facts they need to take action for themselves and their communities,” Melody Barnes, director of the White House domestic policy council, said in a statement.
The five-year, $45 million campaign will also include efforts to get the media and entertainment industries to carry safer-sex and prevention messages. Studies have suggested that traditional media do not reach groups such as blacks and Hispanics, who have higher HIV infection rates than the population as a whole.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation called the advertising plan a disappointment and urged the government to instead spend $200 million to get more people tested for HIV.
“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,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
The CDC estimates that 56,000 Americans become newly infected with HIV each year and more than 14,000 people die of it, with 1.1 million people currently infected. Globally, 33 million are infected and 25 million have died.
“Reducing the disproportionate toll of HIV in black communities is one of CDC’s top domestic HIV prevention priorities, and African-American leaders have long played an essential role in this fight,” said Dr. Kevin Fenton, who directs AIDS efforts at the CDC.
Human immunodeficiency virus or HIV has no cure and is transmitted sexually, in blood and in breast milk. While a cocktail of drugs can keep patients healthy, treatment is expensive and often the virus mutates until older drugs no longer affect it.
Reporting by Maggie Fox, editing by Vicki Allen