Swaziland AIDS victims against media campaign

Published: Thursday 31 August 2006

AIDS Swaziland

In one of the biggest demonstrations seen in Swaziland in years, 1,000 hiv-positive people marched to the offices of the prime minister and the national aids council to protest a new media campaign. The project by Swaziland's National Emergency Response Council on hiv/aids seems to suggest that hiv is caused by sexual infidelity. It was launched in June 2006, without consulting people living with the virus. "The campaign further stigmatises the hiv infected," said Vusi Matsebula, chairperson of the Swaziland National Network of People Living with hiv/aids.

The media campaign, called "Makhwapheni", Siswati slang for illicit lovers, has sent thousands of cellphone text messages mimicking secret lovers arranging a sexual rendezvous. The marketing company behind the initiative says its critics failed to understand the campaign's creative rationale. They claimed that they were only tapping the popularity of cellphones. But to Swaziland's growing number of hiv and aids infected -- over 40 per cent of the sexually active -- the campaign smacked of cheap sensationalism.

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