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'Plenty of Syph' campaign raises controversy


'Plenty of Syph' campaign raises controversy

See the Plenty of Syph site for yourself at plentyofsyph.com. IMAGE 1 OF 1
Encourages stigma more than education, advocates charge
A new Alberta syphilis-awareness campaign that parodies online dating websites – and the people who use them – has been slammed by critics as stigmatizing people with sexually transmitted infections (STI) and unlikely to promote behaviour change.
Alberta has the nation’s highest rates of syphilis, which is relatively easy to treat effectively in places where there is adequate testing, treatment and education. The number of Albertan infections has climbed steadily every year since 2002.
A previous education campaign in 2008 was cancelled by Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert, who told a government committee the problem was caused by people with “careless attitudes” as well as an increase in the number of sex workers.
The Plenty of Syph website features mock sex ads from people with syphilis making statements such as “What’s a dick sore here or there if you’re still getting laid?” Conceived and executed by ad agency Calder Bateman as part of a $2-million program by Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Alberta Health and Wellness (AHW), the campaign also includes mass-media advertising, posters in bars across the province and online promotion on Twitter (@PlentyOfSyph).
“We needed to take a totally different approach to reach internet-savvy 16- to 24-year-olds, who are at high risk for STIs,” says AHW’s Micky Elabdi. But youth exposed to the campaign – which consists of profiles of people with syphilis chancres on their faces and bodies who reject condoms and don’t care if they infect others – may not get the right message prevention experts say.
“Branding those infected with syphilis as ‘different’ only further supports myths about who can and can’t become infected, while simultaneously promoting stigma towards individuals who have been diagnosed with an STI,” says researcher Joshua Rosenberger, who studies sexual behaviour in youth.
The website leaves the user with “more questions than answers with regard to syphilis, the website itself and the goals of this campaign,” says Rosenberger. “Adolescents continue to be disproportionately burdened by STIs,” he notes, but he says they “expect, and deserve, to be provided information about STIs in a manner that is honest and straightforward.”
The satire muddies the message, says Adam Bourne of Sigma Research, the author of multiple studies about what does and doesn’t work in STI prevention. “If taken in the wrong light, I think the campaign gives the impression that individuals carrying STIs such as syphilis and HIV are not taking their infection status seriously and are not behaving in a socially responsible manner.”
“The website provides knowledge of syphilis – although this is somewhat buried amongst the spoof aspects of the site – but I'm not sure how it empowers people to change their behaviour,” says Bourne.
David S Novak, the former national syphilis elimination coordinator for the US Centers for Disease Control, agrees. Now a senior health strategist with Online Buddies, the company that runs Manhunt, he recently rejected an opportunity to promote Plenty of Syph. Novak is concerned the compaign will have a negative impact on men who have sex with men.
“We’ve learned so much from HIV educational campaigns and have spent years perfecting campaigns that avoid stigmatizing those who test for or are living with a sexually transmitted infection,” he says. The ad agency “clearly missed an opportunity to collaboratively design and promote an effective syphilis education campaign,” he says.
“Stigmatizing the disease could reduce testing rates. Those who experience more stigma associated are likely to engage in more risky behaviour,” says Lynn Miller, a communications expert who has studied online risk reduction strategies. She suggests that a successful campaign would focus less on “generating buzz” and more on concrete health tips.
“There is no magic bullet” when it comes to education and prevention messages, says André Corriveau, the province’s chief medical officer of health. He says the ad agency that proposed the campaign did so based on market research, including the perspectives of men who have sex with men. According to Corriveau, the new campaign harkens back to innovative and successful approaches used to approach HIV transmission in the '80s and '90s.
Plenty of Syph does not specifically address any of the Albertan populations most affected by syphilis, which include black men and aboriginal women, or pregnant women with the disease, but Corriveau says they will be reached through other “culturally appropriate outreach efforts” in another phase of the campaign.
AHW’s Micky Elabdi points out that STI testing rates have jumped in the province since the Plenty of Syph campaign launched, noting that some clinics have occasionally had trouble meeting the need.
But poorly targeted campaigns “risk mobilizing the ‘worried well,’” says Bourne of Sigma Research, meaning that people who are not at risk can clog the system when they rush to get tested. “It is crucial,” says Bourne, “that precious sexual health promotion resources are utilized effectively.”
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test positive for STDs
To all of us who test positive for STDs stay strong and don't let anyone put you down. I'd like to recommend you to try PositiveMate. com, a safe and warm-hearted community for singles with STDs to meet others in the same situation.
Also you can check all kinds of STD services, testing centers, live std counselor, treatment stories etc. Hope it helps.
Lots of opinions here, what about evidence?
Perhaps there would be more relevance and validity to this notion that so-called "politically correct" safe-sex campaigns don't work if there were any relationship between that argument and the situation on the ground in Alberta. There is more syphilis in Alberta than anywhere in the country, a situation responsible for the death of numerous BABIES in the past decade, not because of supposedly namby-pamby education campaigns, but because there has been little in the way of education AT ALL (previous campaigns simply cancelled by Conservative politicos) and until recent years any political will to do anything about this. The fact syphilis has caused deaths and reached an emergency state in the province of Alberta -- when syphilis is a condition that is very easily and effectively treatable -- is deplorable. Now -- MORE THAN EVER -- what is needed is effective education rather than scare tactics and shock value. There is tons of evidence about what works in sex education -- and flashy gimmicky campaigns are quickly forgotten. Talk about the wrong thing at the wrong time. Alberta syphilis campaign = FAIL.
I have Syphilis and I am an engineer who works for the largest STD dating and support site STDslove. com. I have to tell you a secret, you can choose not to
believe me. But the truth is that this site has more than 1,880,000 members and about 80% members are good looking.

Unfortunately, STD rates soar worldwide and most people with STDs don't even know that they have them. So do use a condom to protect yourself!!!!
The government should grant more money for STD education to lower the rates of STD transmission.
BRING ON SHAMING! The Ontario Gov did this week with Obesity! The social networking sites skewered the rioters in Vancouver! Try and see if it works. Politically Correct messaging is finally dead hopefully.
Misses the point
Syphilis is difficult to self-diagnose and spreads through touch, so behaviour change isn't even the goal - you want to increase testing rates to bring it under control. I see this as using STI control as an excuse to stigmatise gay men for supposed promiscuity, not as a public health campaign.
“Politically Correct” ideologies are fading
Finally “Politically Correct” ideologies are starting to fade. This is a brilliant, realistic campaign with inference to other socially spread diseases, that need to be reduced in scope, somehow, anyhow. The “nice nice” Politically Correct messages have not worked effectively as there is still an increase in various STIs. And some people are unethical in their sexual behaviour, even more so when they are drunk or stoned --statistically the infection rates of various STIs increase with alcohol and drug use. It is time to implement a more realistic and memorable approach. Since we are a visual culture caught up with perfect beauty, a few caustic blemishes will be better remembered even during intoxication. The most intelligent animals can be taught with “reward” --the least intelligent need to be controlled with punishment. Win-Win.
The old, soft campaigns no longer work
With an increasing STD rate, Alberta authorities obviously realized that they had to do try something different. The old, "soft" safe sex campaigns favoured by AIDS activists no longer seem to be working. So, harder hitting campaigns like plentyofsyph.com are needed.
Someone misses the point...
Responding to an earlier post: Blaming people for getting syphilis doesn't help anyone, and it certainly won't help decrease stigma and getting tested. The "you deserved it" message is so passé that it feels like this campaign travelled through time from 20 years ago. Way to go judging others.
Love it
I love it - it's bang on! Very rare that I agree with the Government of Alberta, but they nailed this one. Yep, it's sad but true - if you whore yourself online, you're more likely to bang a dude who screws around a lot and therefore is more likely to have an STI. Sad but true!

PS: Logjammer!! Hahahahah
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