China launches first major safe sex TV campaign

By Ben Blanchard
Reuters | December 6, 2007

BEIJING, Dec 6 (Reuters) - China rolled out its first major television campaign on Thursday to promote condom use to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS, now mostly being transmitted by sex in the world's most populous country.

The short public service announcements will mainly be shown on screens in buses, trains and planes, on the Internet, in entertainment venues, and on some state television channels.

They will target the young and China's huge floating population of migrant workers, using celebrities including Hong Kong action film star Jackie Chan and Chinese folk singer Peng Liyuan, wife of rising political star Xi Jinping.

"It marks a new era in talking frankly and candidly about these issues, which used to be avoided," said UNDP country director Subinay Nandy.

"This initiative is very timely and is very valid for the epidemic situation in China today,"he told a news conference.

China will have an estimated 50,000 new HIV infections in 2007, compared with 70,000 in 2005, according to a report by the State Council (Cabinet) and the United Nations last week.

That means the country will have about 700,000 people living with HIV/AIDS this year, up from an earlier estimate of 650,000.

The new education push is designed to slow that growth further.

The ads, created by Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon, who won a 2007 Oscar for a documentary about AIDS in China, show the stars meeting or watching young people in a variety of situations, and saying: "Life is too good, please protect yourself."

A message flashes up saying that sex is now the main route of infection in China and the young are particularly vulnerable, adding: "Using condoms can reduce the risk of contracting AIDS."

While the ad may appear timid compared to ones used elsewhere in the world, Chinese actor Pu Cunxin said it marked a breakthrough that sex was now able to be discussed publicly.

"That this appears on television is a very big advance," he said. "But the question of sex and condoms is still taboo. Sex is not bad. It's something that should be talked about."

An attempt in 1999 to promote condom use on television was pulled almost at once for breaking a legal ban on condom advertisements, on the grounds they might promote promiscuity.

Other attempts have similarly foundered.

Condom use in China among vulnerable groups such as prostitutes and men who have sex with men remains low.

While the government no longer views AIDS as a shameful disease imported from the decadent West, and has taken a more proactive approach, problems such as ignorance about transmission and discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS remain. (Editing by Nick Macfie and Roger Crabb)