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  But Racy Television Ads Provoke Ire Of Catholic Church


(October 2, 2006) Chile's government will launch its eighth annual HIV/AIDS awareness campaign at the end of October. But plans for graphic television commercials promoting condom use have outraged Church officials.
The government's previous AIDS awareness campaigns primarily relied on posters, but this year's campaign will specifically target television and radio mass media outlets. The planned advertisements feature students and professionals aged 15 to 30 graphically talking about condom use on television. A young, homosexual couple will be predominately featured in one of the ads, as the group remains the most at risk demographic for HIV infection in Chile.
Most Chileans now acquiring the disease become infected before 24 years of age. The campaign's central message will urge viewers to take responsibility for their own lives and to protect their partners, using condoms for any sexual relations.
The dialogue for the advertisements is still being finalized, but planned catchphrases include "I love you, and using a condom protects you," and "I'm in charge of my life because I use a condom."
The new campaign is expected to further strain relations between Chile's government and the Catholic Church. Church officials were highly critical of last year's less graphic campaign, and several television stations refused to air the advertisements.
The lawyer for the conservative ProLife organization, Jorge Reyes, said "Condoms are not the ideal way to prevent HIV," and argued that ads featuring school-aged girls talking about condoms will only encourage teens to begin sexual relations at a younger age.
The Church's criticism, however, is not inline with the present reality of Chile's youth. A September study found that the majority of Chileans begin sexual activity between 16 and 17 years of age and revealed that youth between the ages of 19 and 24 account for 60 percent of all sexually transmitted infections in Chile (ST, September 4).
Chileans also exhibit extremely low rates of condom use. In 2004, only 35.4 percent of young people reported using a condom during their first sexual experience\which was a significant improvement from 1998 when the rate was 13.5 percent. Fifty-two percent of Chileans report never using a condom.
The decision to promote condom use comes after a 2005 government study found that when used properly, condoms prevent the transmission of HIV with an effectiveness of 98 to 100 percent. The report cited a U.S. study that followed 172 serodiscordant couples (one person is HIV-positive and the other HIV-negative) who always used condoms, and after ten years, not one case of HIV transmission was reported.
The highest rates of condom failure occurred among the young, uneducated, and people using condoms for the first time. When used properly, the report found that condoms had a near 100 percent success rate.
To date, 14,820 Chileans have officially reported HIV infection, with the majority of them asymptomatic. Health officials said the disease could be affecting as many as 50,000 Chileans, since many infected with the virus are unaware of their condition (ST, August 9).
The disease has increased 200 percent in the past 20 years, and there are now a reported ten cases for every 100,000 residents. "Even though new infections are increasing, the acceleration of the spread is slowing down," said Consida Director Edith Ortiz. "At the beginning of the e90s, we thought that we were going to see explosive growth in new infections, but the pace has slowed downc. Since 1996, heterosexual transmission has increased, while homosexual transmission has stayed at stable levels."
Despite the rise in new infections, Chile has made progress in the fight against HIV. AIDS deaths peaked in 2001, and the percentage of those diagnosed with AIDS who die within five years has shrunk by two-thirds.
HIV/AIDS is one of the conditions covered by Chile's expanded public healthcare system, AUGE, and over two-thirds of Chileans who need anti-retroviral treatment receive it (ST, March 30). HIV medications are free in the public system, but many patients prefer to pay for it at private clinics, keeping their condition secret by avoiding registration in public records. People are often left unemployed and destitute if their HIV status becomes known (ST, July 4).
UNAIDS coordinator for Chile Laurent Zessler warned youth against letting their guard down in the face of progress that has been made in treating HIV/AIDS. "They should be alert," he said. "Chilean youth have to reform their sexuality and not trust in the treatments that exist for the disease."
Since the AIDS epidemic began in the early 1980s, the disease has killed 5,043 Chileans and millions more around the world.
By Nathan Crooks (
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