This is a public service announcement

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This summer in Hyderabad, I walked past shiny new malls and mammoth glass buildings housing the growing number of outsourced American companies; through parks where men furtively sought other men for a quick, no-names-asked encounter; down roads lined with women selling their bodies.

I paced the platforms at train stations; interviewed people in their one-room homes in the slums and was hosted in an affluent neighborhood. In those 12 days in Hyderabad, the main city in Andhra Pradesh, a state that ranks among the top 5 Indian states with the highest rate of HIV infections, I saw one single poster with a message about HIV/AIDS.

The poster appeared, of all places, in front of a private hospital. I don’t recall seeing any public service posters in Bangalore, Chennai or Mumbai.

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The AIDS campaign appears to have shifted onto television, which reaches the richest and poorest audiences in India. Sometimes, several slum-dwellers share a single television or servants and their kids sit on the floor at an employer’s home to watch some of the popular programs. People find a way to watch television.

A television-based AIDS awareness campaign might actually be more effective in presenting an accurate and understandable message. Vivek Divan, a former project coordinator for the advocacy group Lawyers
Collective HIV/AIDS unit in Mumbai, India, told me in 2004 that posters left too much to the imagination.

“There is a problem of not making HIV real for the reader of these messages,” said Divan. ” It presented
messages in very abstract ways—a painted slogan. It doesn’t make any sense to me when I pass by it on the railway tracks.”

The advertisements I watched on television stressed that this was a disease everyone needed to fear. They depict middle class families that many Indians recognize as their own discussing this fast spreading
disease.

These Public Service Announcements appear on Doordarshan’s local and national channels. Doordarshan is one of India’s most watched stations. Many of the spots were dubbed into six local languages.

The messages are about condom usage; how HIV is transmitted; and about living and working with
people who are living with AIDS. The spots are as direct as they can be in a culture that still shows very little kissing in its movies and television programs.

The BBC World Service Trust created the following spots for India’s National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) and Doordarshan. The BBC World Service Trust owns the copyright but allows non-commercial use.

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