Historic HIV/AIDS Initiative “Live Up” Launched Across the Caribbean

As HIV/AIDS rates continue to skyrocket across the region, a  pioneering multi-year, Caribbean-wide initiative was recently launched in conjunction with the International Cricket Council’s 2007 World Cup.

The Caribbean has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the western hemisphere, and is second only to sub-Saharan Africa in terms of the impact of the disease, according to the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership (CBMP).

“AIDS is the leading cause of death among adults in the Caribbean, and 250,000 of the region’s residents are living with AIDS,” according to information provided by CBMP. “Half of those are women and a third are young people between the ages of 15 and 24.”

Aiming to stem the tide of infections, especially among the younger generation, Caribbean media groups are taking an innovative approach.

Cricket Popularity Helps
Taking advantage of the more than two billion viewers across the globe who were expected to watch the ICC World Cup, the “Live Up: Love. Protect. Respect.” campaign was launched on March 11 in Jamaica.

A partnership between United Nations AIDS, Unicef, ICC and more than 50 media outlets in 23 countries through CBMP, Live Up is the first HIV/AIDS initiative to take advantage of the media — both television and radio — in the fight against AIDS.

“Live Up is not a campaign of one broadcaster, one country, or even one year,” said Allyson Leacock, chair of the Live Up steering committee. “As the first media-led AIDS education effort to span the entire Caribbean region, Live Up will involve major broadcasters on every island working together — across different media but with unified messages and a shared approach — to help turn back this disease and protect the health of our young people.”

Power of the Media
“We are embracing as many media partners as possible, instead of doing it on-site,” Leacock continued. “Our focus is on the power of the media as the critical element in advancing the cause of AIDS, breaking the silence and removing the stigma that continues to thwart advancements in AIDS education and awareness.”

The campaign, which will include regular news coverage, Caribbean-created programs and public service announcements on both television and radio, aims to open dialogue about AIDS.

“Silence is Death”
“If there is one thing we’ve learned over the past two decades dealing with this epidemic, it’s that silence is death,” said the U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean, Sir George Alleyne. “With the outstanding leadership of 50 broadcasters throughout the region, this will no doubt end the silence about this epidemic.”

Live Up is also intended to tackle the wide-spread homophobia which is found across the region, Alleyne explained.

“Stigma, homophobia and discrimination impede adequate public response to this epidemic,” said Alleyne. “With Live Up we are sending an important message that we are all equal in front of AIDS and we must treat all with the compassion and respect they deserve. Inclusion must be our watchword.”

Overcoming the stigma of homophobia is an important factor in the fight against AIDS.

Stigma, Discrimination Common
“HIV-related stigma and discrimination are extremely common in the Caribbean,” according to the international AIDS charity Avert’s Web site. “Prejudice towards people living with HIV is linked with homophobia. Sex between men carries a high risk of HIV transmission and, as elsewhere, people in the Caribbean often associate HIV with homosexuality, despite the fact that the majority of infections occur through heterosexual sex.”

“The effects of this prejudice are numerous,” according to the Web site. “For one thing, it causes a great deal of stress and suffering to people who are living with HIV and their families, who often face social isolation and harassment. In another sense, stigma stops people who are at risk of infection from accessing information on prevention and testing, and reduces people’s willingness to buy condoms or alter their sexual behavior.”

Targeting Youth
Live Up is designed to fight the stigma which has helped to fuel the HIV epidemic throughout the Caribbean. Also, with a wide range of celebrities endorsing the campaign, from Rupee to Jimmy Cliff, organizers hope to reach the Caribbean’s younger generation.

“Live Up focuses on what young people can do to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and how the region can come together to create a more open, supportive environment for people already living with AIDS,” said Leacock. “Our youth are increasingly being impacted by this epidemic. Live Up is outstanding because it targets those who are most at risk, our young people who are the future of the Caribbean.”

Promoting Respect
Collaborating with the ICC, especially during the 2007 Cricket World Cup, rounds out the latest Caribbean approach to fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region.

“We will use the sport of cricket to raise awareness and reduce the stigma about AIDS,” said Jon Long, manager of corporate affairs for ICC. “Live Up fits with our commitment as a sport to promote the spirit of cricket — which is enshrined in the laws of play — respect.”

A Live Up public service announcement was played during the 2007 Cricket World Cup opening ceremony and similar announcements will be aired during each match. 2007 Cricket World Cup games are scheduled to be played in St. Kitts, Nevis, Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica, Barbuda, Antigua, Guyana, Grenada and Barbados.

Message of Hope
“We are sending the message of hope to two billion people around the world who are tuning in for the games,” said Alleyne. “We believe this historic initiative can really make a difference.”

For more information check out the Web site www.iliveup.com.