Safe sex campaigning over the years

BACKGROUND Russian youths are increasingly at risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS. There has been such new freedom towards sexuality in Russia that some Muscovites use the term "sexual revolution" to describe the recent changes. At the same time, intravenous drug use has become widespread and represents the greatest route of HIV transmission at this moment. Most injecting drug users are students and young workers, and being sexually active, there is an important risk for transmission of HIV to other young groups. It is not only HIV/AIDS that is spreading dramatically; there is an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases across Russia. Syphilis, for example, has increased 70-fold within the last several years. MSF chose mass media campaigning as an instrument to reach young Russians, with the goal of improving awareness about HIV/AIDS and of promoting sexual health and condom use. CAMPAIGNING OVER THE YEARS All the campaigns were launched with the full support of the Russian Ministry of Health. They consisted in 30-second commercials on TV and radio; advertisements in print media; web-sites; billboards in the public transport; and information leaflets. Though the campaigns were initially designed for Moscow, broadcasting was nation-wide. Each campaign video clip was shown free of charge over 2000 times throughout Russia, representing $45 million in broadcast time. More than 1 200 000 information leaflets were distributed in total, via clinics, clubs and universities. Youth events were organized and covered on television. Cities like Kazan, Penza and Vologda also ran the campaigns (including broadcasts on local channels, leaflet distributions, outdoor advertising and concerts). The first campaign was launched in June 1997 and ran for one year under the slogan "safe sex, my choice". For the second media campaign that began in January 1999, MSF worked closely with "Focus", a Russian non-governmental organization. The slogan "reasonable person, reasonable choice" was created to promote a healthy lifestyle and condom use through an attitude of personal responsibility. Two video cartoon animations brought the message to life: one with a male leading character and another with a female. The third and latest campaign was launched in March of 2000: "this little thing will save us both" and "make your world safer". It targeted two groups: a series of four video animations was destined for the general, young, Russian audience; while another video clip was produced for young Russians living in urban areas who may already know about safe sex but need to be encouraged to make responsible choices. Next June, 2001, Focus and MSF will launch the fourth campaign. It will target 20 to 29 year olds, as they use condoms less often than younger age groups. The key issues of the campaign will be personal responsibility and social approval of condom use and safe sex. Practical methods will be given to help young adults clearly communicate to their partners that they want to use a condom. RESEARCH Quantitative and qualitative research was conducted by MSF and Focus for all the campaigns. This research served to evaluate the knowledge and awareness of HIV, AIDS, and STDs among Moscow's youth; better understand their attitudes and perceptions regarding safe sex; and measure the impact of the campaigns and draw lessons from them. In the research conducted between September and October, 1999, 1,200 Muscovites 15-25 years of age were interviewed. The majority of the respondents (90%) stated that they had seen various condom and safe sex advertising and were convinced that it is necessary to continue broad advertising campaigns on these themes. Seventy-five percent of the respondents had seen the "reasonable person - reasonable choice" clip. The research revealed that young men and women have specific opinions about condom use: according to them, condoms should be used during sexual contact with casual or new partners, but not with permanent or exclusive partners. 75% of the respondents felt that asking a partner to use a condom does not mean showing the other disrespect or mistrust. 90% approved the idea of sexual education in schools. All of the respondents expressed an interest in getting detailed information on sexual health problems. TOWARDS SOCIAL CHANGE In 1997 and 1998 the Russians became acquainted with the first "safe sex - my choice" campaign conducted by MSF. Since then, MSF and Focus have clearly noticed some change within Russian society: generally speaking, people have become more used to discussing intimate problems and are more comfortable with such discussions'. Safe sex and condom use are no longer "taboo" topics. Though initially, many people found the campaigns too liberal and the elderly found them hard to accept, viewers today have a more favorable attitude towards the campaigns. Over the past three years, there has been a noticeable increase in the openness of the Russian society towards the ideas of safe sex and condom use.