Utah’s governor blocks HIV-prevention scheme over “sexual innuendos”

Medill DC via Flickr

Condom packaging displayed slogans like ‘Explore Utah’s caves’ or Toss the jello salad.’

The governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, has stopped a HIV-prevention scheme because he did not “approve of” the packaging of condoms with sexual innuendos.

Up to 100,000 condoms were set to be distributed the Utah Department of Health’s Prevention and Care Program as part of the state’s The H is for Human campaign. Love Communications was hired to brand the condom packages with puns and sex-positive messages.

One of the package was labelled ‘SL,UT’ a reference to Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah, while others had slogans like ‘Explore Utah’s caves’ or ‘Toss the jello salad.’

The campaign had been modelled after successful campaigns in Alaska and Wyoming, which had used similar pun-filled branding, and had been funded by both state and federal money.

A spokesperson for Gary Herbert said: “The Governor understands the importance of the Utah Department of Health conducting a campaign to educate Utahns about HIV prevention.

“He does not, however, approve the use of sexual innuendo as part of a taxpayer-funded campaign, and our office has asked the department to rework the campaign’s branding.”

Following the halting of the campaign, Utah’s Department of Heath issued an apology, saying: “The designs did not go through necessary approval channels and we have asked our partners to stop distributing them immediately.

“We regret the lewd nature of the branding. We remain committed to running a campaign to help in the prevention of HIV and intend to do so in a manner that better respects taxpayer dollars, and our role as a government agency.”

Not all within the Department agreed with the pulling, as Erin Fratto, said: “If the condoms are fun, relatable, sex-positive — people are more apt to talk about them, which we’ve already seen.”

Michael Sanders, a volunteer who was distributing the condoms, told KUTV: “We have worked so hard to get this program and information up and running and it’s vital.

“Our message is that HIV of today is different then it once was and we want to keep the general public up-to-date to understand how important it is to get tested so if you test positive you know the options available and if you test negative, then you know the options to remain negative.

“We want to explain what HIV is today in 2020 to reduce the stigma and enhance the lives of those living with HIV here in the state of Utah. Our goal is zero infections.”

Earlier this week, it was announced that new HIV infections among gay and bisexual men had fallen by 71% in the UK since 2012. There were 2,300 new infections among MSM in 2012, compared to 800 in 2018.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK is on track to meet its goal of ending HIV transmission by 2030, saying he “feel[s] very strongly” about the cause and that the new figures are “encouraging”.

The decrease in new transmissions has been attributed to the success of HIV preventative measure PrEP, and campaigners are now urging the government to make the drug more widely available.

Of the estimated 103,800 people living with HIV in the UK in 2018, 93% have been diagnosed, 97% of those are receiving treatment, and 97% of those are virally suppressed.

Related: The fight against HIV is far from over

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