Actor Jamie Foxx and recording artist Chris “Ludacris” Bridges today join the ranks of celebrities who have lent their popularity to push HIV prevention as part of a social media effort targeting young African Americans.
The “i know” campaign is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which aims to draw thousands of young people into a conversation about HIV using Facebook, Twitter, text messages and a website (actagainstaids.org). It launches today with an event at Clark Atlanta University that will be webcast to students nationwide.
If it works as the CDC hopes, young African Americans will no longer be passive consumers of HIV-prevention messages. Instead, they’ll become vocal advocates armed with information that will help them protect themselves and one another from HIV, says Kevin Fenton, director of the CDC’s national center of HIV/AIDS prevention. “We’re trying to create a movement,” Fenton says.
The initiative is part of a five-year, $45 million effort called Act Against AIDS, announced last year at the White House. The broader effort was designed to “refocus attention on the HIV epidemic here at home” after years of addressing the crisis in Africa and elsewhere, says Robert Bailey II of the CDC.
Public health officials say one of their biggest challenges is to shatter the complacency bred by the misconception that, thanks to effective treatment, HIV is no longer an emergency.
The AIDS virus continues to spread widely among African Americans, who represent just 14% of Americans ages 13-29 but account for half of new infections in that group, the CDC reports. Young black gay and bisexual men account for 55% of infections among African Americans in that age group, the CDC says.
Yet the number of young blacks who say they’re concerned about HIV declined from 50% to 40% from 1997 to 2009, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Tina Hoff, who leads Kaiser’s efforts to convey prevention messages through the entertainment industry and social media, says Internet networking can raise awareness, but only as part of a comprehensive strategy.
Last fall, the foundation set out to bolster the White House initiative with its Greater Than AIDS campaign, launched with the Black AIDS Institute, MTV, BET, Essence and other media enterprises. What’s needed, Hoff says, is a “collective response” in the African-American community: “Building a social network is a useful component of that.”