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Life's a beach with HIV!

Sun 6 Mar 2005 In: HIV

American drug company Bristol-Myers is being urged to drop ads for its AIDS drug Reyataz, which features two bronzed men on a beach, because they minimise the seriousness of the disease. The novelty advertisement is featured in the latest issue of Poz, a monthly American magazine targeted at the HIV+ community. Operating in a similar manner to novelty talking greeting cards, when squeezed the magazine sets off a recorded message. A phone ring is heard twice, then a man's voice on an ansaphone exclaims, “Hey hey, we're at the beach! Catch you later!”. When opened, the advertisement itself featuring the bronzed men is revealed. The largest non-profit provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the United States, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is appalled. "It says that I don't have to be that careful about getting HIV because I can go to the beach and pop pills," said AHF president Michael Weinstein in the Wall Street Journal. A spokesman for Bristol-Myers responded that AHF's comments had been taken on board. "We take how people are portrayed in our advertising very seriously and strive to depict HIV-positive people in a responsible way. To our knowledge, we have not been contacted by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation about this advertisement but we take their opinion and feedback very seriously and will look forward to dialogue with them." Although the ads do not appear in New Zealand's gay media, the AIDS Foundation is still concerned about the potential impact of such messages, as imported gay media is readily available. The ad is not the first to paint a misleading picture of life on HIV medication, which cumulatively over the last five to six years have helped reinforce a dangerous myth that life with HIV is peachy. One of these previous campaigns featured rock-climbers, with a veiled inference that HIV medication would not only restore sufferers to full health, but actually make them healthier than they were before being infected. Possible side effects were listed in tiny print, effectively hidden in the shadow of the buffed sex gods selling the wonder remedy. “One only has to read the pill diary that has been featured in GayNZ.com to know that the reality of life on HIV pills can be very different,” says AIDS Foundation spokesman Steve Attwood. “While it is useful for HIV positive people to have access to information about possible drug treatment regimes, the Foundation believes that information should come from experienced medical professionals without the commercial hype that accompanies medical advertisement.” Attwood says that New Zealand and the United States are the only two western countries in the world that allow commercial advertising of prescription drugs. Some in the medical profession have lobbied the government to change this law because of the unrealistic expectations such advertisements can create. Due to the influential nature of advertising, some patients pressure their physicians to be placed on medication that may be unsuitable, in order to have the “latest new thing”. “The NZAF is greatly concerned that these unrealistic ads desensitise HIV negative people to the seriousness of HIV, creating the impression that people don't have to worry so much about HIV anymore because, if a person does become infected, they can just "pop a few pills" and life will be fine,” says Attwood. “Although it has yet to become evident in New Zealand research, HIV educators worldwide have, for some time now, been talking about the influence that over-optimism in the ease and effectiveness of pill regimes has on unsafe sex behaviour.” While the Foundation cannot control advertising in imported magazines, local media so far has remained free from such advertisements. New Zealand's relatively small market and differences between our subsidised medicine scheme and the prescription regimes that apply in America are likely factors in stopping the spread of these dangerous messages at a time when HIV infection rates among the homosexual and heterosexual population are at an all-time high. Chris Banks - 6th March 2005    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Sunday, 6th March 2005 - 12:00pm

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