Moscow - The Safe Sex campaign of MSF, which was launched in June 1997, has been well received by young Muscovites. A recent survey reports that Moscow's' young people like the campaign 'Safe Sex My Choice' and that they consider information like this very important. Russia's youth have only limited sources of information regarding issues like safe sex. Apart from incidental private initiatives there is still no sex education in Russian schools.
High rates of sexually transmitted diseases
In the last several years, rates of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) has grown dramatically in the Russian Federation. Sexually transmitted diseases have risen by a factor of up to 60 times the levels they were in 1990, and HIV from 23 persons in 1987 to over 8000 today. Abortion is a common form of birth control. Sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, both preventable with safe sex, are contributors to infertility and the declining birth rate. For HIV there is still no cure.
The survey among 15 - 25 year old Muscovite youth revealed that, although they know the modes of transmission of HIV, important misconceptions still exist. For example 29% think that it can be risky sharing a plate with a HIV infected person, 24% think that condoms do not prevent sexually transmitted disease. Some consider sharing towels, sweat and coughing to be risk factors as well.
Young Muscovites are sexually very active. 86% of those 17 years or older had sexual experience, and 15% had more than one sexual partner in the last month. 22% of those having sexual experience, had a sexual partner refuse to use a condom. While some may advocate abstinence for prevention, this represents an idealistic, not realistic solution for millions of young persons. Methods of safe sex, such as consistent and correct condom use, must not be excluded.
Impact of the campaign
The "Safe sex, my choice" campaign had wide coverage and popularity among its target group, youth 15-25. The support from TV, radio, metro, and magazines contributed over $9 million dollars equivalent in free exposure, support that is critical for a media campaign to be an effective tool for preventive health. A total of 800.000 leaflets were distributed in clubs, pharmacies, clinics and with magazines. The TV commercial has been shown over 1.100 times Russia wide on different TV channels. The campaign materials were picked up by other regions in the Russian Federation and used in local media campaigns. The survey reports that in Moscow 80% of the respondents had seen the campaign, 83% think this type of information is important for persons their age, 84% think this type of information should continue to be given and 93% support the introduction of sex education in schools.
In Autumn of 1997, Moscow authorities banned the outdoor advertisement on public transport after complaints from anonymous groups. The attention drawn by this incident in national and international media generated a wave of welcome publicity with regards to the public debate on sexual health and HIV/AIDS in Russia.
A follow-up campaign is currently under preparation, under coaching of MSF, by a Russian non-governmental organisation 'Focus' and the Russian Ministry of Health. The next campaign will focus again on promoting a positive image with regards to safer sex and condom use, and is expected to be launched in late fall of 1998.