Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Condom, Condom, Condom

By Thomas Henning

I’ll own it. I love technology. I love the comfort; the whimsy; the convenience it brings into my life.

I adore when my phone rings and the theme song from Dynasty plays, letting me know that it is one of my high-maintenance friends calling. I appreciate that I can have the number and address of the restaurant I am meeting friends at sent to me via text message when I call information. I even love that I can go online and send people “hugs, pokes, and an occasional piece of flair.”

Imagine how excited I was when I found I could download a ringtone that repeated the jingle “condom, condom.” I mean, I spent two hours re-assigning the appropriate people on my phone list with the new ring tone. The jingle is super catchy and so damn cute it had me giggling harder than I did as a child watching Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares.

Okay, so here is the story. Recently, the BBC World Service Trust, an international charity of BCC, produced a cellular phone ring tone in India that recites a jingle repeating the words “condom, condom,” and have made it available to download for free online, at Oh yeah, click this site

This is phase III in a 4-part campaign targeted at making condoms socially acceptable and improving the image of condom users as a smart and responsible people. Campaign organizers are hoping this new approach will spark discussion among people about HIV/AIDS and practicing safe sex.

Love this campaign and think it is a great first step into using new forms of media to engage people, especially youth, about safer sex, HIV/AIDS prevention tools, and thoughts around said tools.

In fact, Cable Positive is launching a program to do just that. A program that educates and empowers youth to create their own multi-platform media campaign with an HIV/AIDS message aimed at their peers. You hear me, a message created by youth for youth. In fact, they will be driving the process and given the tools to take back to their community to educate and inspire their peers to do the same. Cable Positive, and the YAMI team, will be arming the youth with the education and know-how to use media, in all its various forms, as an advocacy tool.

Our initiative, called The Youth AIDS Media Institute, or YAMI for short, takes direct aim at young people, and the important role they play in halting the spread of new HIV infections. Right now, the first phase of YAMI is underway in the form of a community outreach grant. The grant will fund projects like web-based training sessions created by young people, and a text messaging campaign produced by youths.

Young people are a key demographic in halting the spread of HIV because they are unique in the ways they can be reached. Youths account for one of the largest at risk populations for contracting the disease, yet they subscribe to the most diverse array of media channels on the planet. In the US cell phone use is higher than anywhere else on the planet, especially in urban areas like New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Los Angeles where land lines are like VCRs.

Standing O to the BBC World Service Trust and their “condom, condom” campaign. They clearly get it. Meeting your audience where they are at is not only good business it is good sense. You mobilize entire communities by engaging them where they live and giving them motivation to share what they learn with others. They empowered and educated the people of India and the people of India enjoyed it so much they shared it with others.

That is my vision for Cable Positive’s YAMI program and we are already on our way. Through the YAMI Community Outreach grant, we are providing funding for youth to use new media platforms to make a change in their communities. Cable Positive with the help of Motorola, and the entire cable industry, will continue to help spread HIV/AIDS awareness messages in an even larger scale in the months to come. Better yet, we will continue to encourage and inspire young people to do the same. Like I said, I love technology.

By the way, go to and download that ringtone. I am telling you, it will generate more buzz than Gossip Girl and isn’t that the point?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Cost of a Closed Culture

by Steve Villano

While the world’s attention was riveted on Beijing last week, mine was focused on a Chinese friend of mine who was visiting New York. He had come to New York for a visit, and I was the first person he told that he was HIV Positive.

He had known since May, but was terrified of telling anyone in his home country about his HIV status. He knew how people would react, and it would not be the way the fans at the “Bird’s Nest” in Beijing were cheering their athletes.

My friend is not a teenager; he is close to 40 years old, single, has an extraordinarily successful career, and considerable wealth. There was no financial barrier to seeing a doctor for him—only a cultural one.

So, he came to New York on vacation, and told me his HIV status, and that he was not on any medications, did not know his T-cell count, nor his viral load. I did what anyone who has worked many years in the area of HIV/AIDS education and prevention would do—I arranged for him to see a doctor, get re-tested, find out some important facts about his status, and get on meds, if he needed them.

We scheduled an appointment for him with a top physician at APICHA—the Asian/Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS. He was a “self-pay” patient—a rarity at many financially strapped AIDS service organizations—but that did not matter. He was treated with the same dignity and compassion that all of APICHA’s clients receive—and they serve the largest number of Asian/Pacific Islanders in the entire Northeastern US.

My friend was impressed with the quality of care he received, the comfortable and confidential manner in which he was treated, and the fact that his case was handled in a completely medical/scientific and non-judgmental way. He only wished he could get the same kind of care in his home country.

He learned from the doctor he saw at APICHA that his T-cell count and viral load were well within normal range, he was STD-free, and that he did not need to go on medication just yet. He was told he needed to see a doctor every three or four months for an updated assessment of T-cells and viral load—in the event it became necessary to place him on an anti-retroviral drug routine. That would not be a problem, he said, if he lived in NYC or in the US, but getting such care at home might be as difficult as defeating Michael Phelps in a swimming competition.

My friend is fortunate that he found out early that he was HIV positive, can travel the world at will, and pay for doctors in NYC or San Francisco or Europe. But, there are millions of others just like him, without means or access to medical care, whose cultures force them to keep their HIV status very quiet, until the virus makes its presence impossible to hide, or to live with.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

No Gold Medals in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS

By Steve Villano

The past few weeks have been filled with momentous news and developments concerning HIV/AIDS worldwide, and in the United States. First, the National Institutes of Health announced that is was abandoning a major vaccine clinical trial. It was the second such bad-news announcement about an important vaccine trial in the past year—leaving education as the only vaccine we have. Then, the CDC admitted that it had seriously undercounted the number of HIV infections in the US by as much as 40 percent, calling into question its education and prevention efforts in communities around the country.

Last week, the 17th International AIDS Conference concluded in Mexico City, with 25,000 delegates from around the world calling for a full-scale campaign to reduce the stigma surrounding the disease, which prevents millions of people—in the US and abroad—from seeking the medical assistance they need. If all of these developments underscored one thing it is that the need for Cable Positive and for corporate social responsibility in fighting HIV/AIDS is greater than it has ever been in the 16 years of the organization’s existence. The question is, will we have your financial support to do the job?

The Washington Post recently published an article about the amazing Dr. Helene Gayle, Cable Positive’s 2008 Humanitarian Award Winner for her decades of work in fighting this disease. Cable Positive’s Benefit Dinner held in March of this year, also honored Insight’s Michael Willner and MTV Networks’ Bill Roedy for their corporate and individual leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Now, consolidation of the Cable industry calendar has changed the playing field for Cable Positive. Cable Positive’s Annual Benefit Dinner—which had been our single largest source of income to support our programs & services—has gone the way analog TV is going in February—it’s disappearing. Instead, we’ll be recognizing governmental, humanitarian, and cable industry leadership making a difference against HIV/AIDS at a joint NCTA/Cable Positive Chairmen’s Reception at the National Show in April, 2009—an historic first.

If gold medals were given out for corporate social responsibility championships, the Cable industry would sweep every category simply on the strength of its unparalleled work with Cable Positive. Unfortunately, gold medals are not being minted to fight HIV/AIDS. Neither is cash.

So, how will Cable Positive raise the funds it needs to deliver our programs and services to the communities and individuals cable companies serve? How will we continue to raise the kind of grant money we’ve donated to 300 community-based organizations in 45 States, touching tens of millions of lives? How will we continue to produce & distribute award-winning PSAs on HIV/AIDS awareness & prevention, or documentaries such as “Women & HIV” which Showtime Networks aired in November, millions more cable subscribers saw on VOD, and community-based health clinics around the country requested as an educational tool? How will we continue to build on the multi-million dollar investment of money and the billion dollar investment of airtime the cable industry has made in this monumental battle against AIDS that far outpaces anything done by our competitors in satellite or telephone?

In December, 2007, the Motorola Foundation gave a huge vote of confidence in Cable Positive’s work by donating $200,000 to create our Youth AIDS Media Institute specifically to train young people about peer-to-peer education on HIV/AIDS, using all types of platforms of communications. Showtime’s CEO Matt Blank and Carlsen Resources CEO Ann Carlsen donated thousands of dollars to help launch our “One to One” matching grant program to provide direct services to those most in need of assistance. Earlier this year, Joel Berger’s father Moe, passed away and left a $10,000 gift to Cable Positive to continue our work, because he believed passionately in what we are doing—some 13 years after his son’s death from AIDS-related causes. And, year after year the John Evans Foundations donates $25,000 to Cable Positive to educate as many people as we can reach about the disease.

Validation of our work has also come from other quarters. The Wall Street Journal has reported favorably on our national awareness, education & prevention campaigns, and our use of a “cable roadblock”—in prime time-- to get our messages out. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation has described our approach to fighting HIV/AIDS as unique because it is both a resource for the industry and a vehicle for it to act collectively on a critical issue.” And, the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health has recognized Cable Positive and the cable industry with its’ prestigious Leadership in Corporate Responsibility Award.

This year, Cable Positive has also begun raising funds to carry out our educational mission. Through Cable Positive’s eBay store consumers around the globe are shopping to support the cause of fighting HIV/AIDS, thanks to donations of special items from NBC Universal, Fox Cable and Rainbow Media’s Josh Sapan.

With Education STILL the only vaccine available to us – and with cable television, the internet, and text messaging being the most effective HIV/AIDS delivery systems in existence – we need your support now, more than ever before. We have a great deal of work to do, and we need the resources to do it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Our Communities are Burning

By Steve Villano

The big news out of Mexico City this week—where thousands of delegates are gathered for the 17th Annual International AIDS Conference—is that while the United States has just allocated $50 billion to fight AIDS worldwide over the next five years, HIV cases in the US are raging out of control.

In a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the CDC admitted that it had under-reported the number of new HIV infections occurring in the US annually by some 40 per cent. Using 2006 as the most recent year for which the latest figures are available, the CDC found that 53,300 people became HIV positive in that year, compared with the 40,000 per year statistic the agency has been citing annually.

The respected British scientific journal The Lancet, said that the “U.S. efforts to prevent HIV have failed dismally,” in criticizing the CDC’s refusal to release the startling new statistics it has had since last fall. CDC officials have pointed to new HIV testing methods as the reason for the increase in the reporting of new infections.

Whatever the official reasons, those of us involved in the day-to-day combat with HIV/AIDS are not surprised by the enormous undercount of HIV infected Americans.

We have long known that accurate reporting of HIV infections was woefully insufficient in communities of color and among gay and bisexual men. The latest findings confirm what local AIDS service organizations have known for years: that HIV/AIDS has its greatest impact among gay & bisexual men of all races, and among African-American men and women.

And, the new HIV infection figures point to the urgency of the federal government—and non-profit organizations like Cable Positive—to do much, much more on HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention. California Congressman Henry A. Waxman, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said that, “HIV prevention has been under funded and too often hindered by politics & ideology. “ Congressman Waxman pointed out that, “since 2002, when adjusted for inflation, CDC’s HIV/AIDS prevention budget has actually shrunk by 19 percent, and that the President has recently requested additional decreases in funding for HIV prevention at CDC.”

Waxman’s words were echoed by the head of the CDC’s prevention efforts, Dr. Kevin A. Fenton, who told the New York Times, that the “CDC’s new incidence estimates reveal that the HIV epidemic is and has been worse than previously known.”

For an organization that specializes in communicating messages of HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention, Cable Positive’s work is now, more important than ever before. The AIDS epidemic is a global crisis, and domestically, HIV infection is a growing emergency, that the communications industry—working directly through Cable Positive—has the means to fight. Our communities are in flames, and just as local cable systems and networks would provide public service announcement and programs aimed at fire prevention to protect the neighborhoods they serve from destruction, delivering messages of HIV/AIDS prevention is our civic, moral and corporate responsibility