World Aids Day attempted to present a unified approach to the disease
but different societies need to be fed different messages, says Gareth
Zundel, a director of Harvard Public Relations
This year World Aids Day asked us to believe in ‘one world, one hope’.
While there is merit in a single message and single identity for such a
day there is not and, for the forseeable future must not, be a common
approach to Aids campaigns throughout the world. The effectiveness of
public education campaigns to date has varied dramatically across
different social and national groups. Compare the falling rate of Aids
infection among drug injectors in Scotland with the exponential rise in
infection among drug users in parts of the former Eastern bloc. In one
town in the Ukraine the percentage of HIV-infected people among
injecting drug users rose from 1.7 per cent in Januray 1995 to 56.5 per
cent 11 months later.
This is not to say that public education campaigns have been absent in
countries where infection rates are rising. Rather, the effectiveness
of such campaigns is severly diminished where social and economic
conditions lead to cyclical disadvantage. Where there is a general lack
of hope for improved quality of life, the messages fall on deaf ears.
In most developed countries the awareness element of World Aids Days
has had a powerful two-pronged effect. The breadth of adoption of the
red ribbon icon has in itself conveyed the message that Aids recognises
no social or sexual boundaries. Secondly, the wearing of the ribbon has
become something of an act of remembrance. As with Armistice Day, the
process of reflection serves to reinforce previously learnt lessons.
But where the educational lessons have for whatever reason not worked,
the awareness aspects of World Aids Day will not elicit more responsible
behaviour. The challenge for future World Aids Days remains successful
education or re-education among those communities or groups where
infection rates are highest.
World Aids Day should keep its red ribbons and continue its educational
events. The ribbons must not merely represent proud proclamation of the
wearer’s care and tolerance but trigger sober remembrance. And despite
World Aids Day’s stated aim to end fear and hysteria surrounding Aids,
some powerful educational messages simply must break the cycle of non
compliance which is leading to the explosive spread of HIV infection in