‘There’s no need for fear’ is the message of the chilling film (Image M-Foundation | Facebook)
One of the organizations doing great health awareness work in the Middle East is M-Foundation. The MENA (Middle East North Africa) branch of this Non-Government Agency is based in Beirut, Lebanon. It produces Arabic-language materials that can be used across the Middle East.
It’s just released a film for World AIDS Day to encourage men to get tested.
Perhaps surprisingly, the film begins like a horror movie. Some may be reminded, dispiritingly, of infamous campaign films from the early days of AIDS – like the ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ campaign in the UK in the late 80s.
A man awakes in his darkened bedroom. He gets up and creeps through his house, his every step accompanied by chilling music. We see another figure in the darkness. Who is he and what’s going to happen?
Thankfully, this is one thriller with a twist in the tale. The reason for the scary music is to provoke fear – exactly the emotion that many still experience when they think about getting themselves tested for HIV.
However, as the film goes on to explain, ‘test and counseling are not something scary… you can take the test confidentially and get the result in a short time.’
Watch the film below.
‘This video is the first of five about HIV testing,’ M-Foundation Executive Director Elie Ballan told GSN.
‘We are trying to debunk HIV testing myths, such as fear of testing and embarrassment, about being safe when having sex, living with HIV and discussing HIV with friends.
‘The idea is that this campaign targets gay men, and in our experience, gay men enjoy funny stuff. So we decided to make the videos funny, so guys would share them and have a more relaxed view about HIV in order to break the stigma of the 80’s horror epidemic.
‘It in no way means to belittle HIV. I myself have been living with HIV for 10 years, but we just want people to not be too scared.’
Anti-gay attitudes persist across the Middle East, and same-sex sexual activity remains a crime in most countries. This poses challenges for sexual health campaigners in the region – and for local LGBTI communities.
‘We do have high stigma in our region,’ says Ballan. ‘With prevalence of almost 0.1-1% of HIV among the general population, among gay men the prevalence is between 3-10% and rising.
‘Some people still fear touching or being around HIV+ people, let alone dating one. So we hope through this campaign to make people get tested more frequently and not fear the test. We hope they would practice safer sex, commit to their treatments when needed and discuss HIV more openly among their friends to let go of the taboo behind it.’
Earlier this week, Grindr announced that it was introducing new security measures for users in the Middle East. Users of the gay dating app will soon be allowed to change the Grindr icon on their phone to make it more anonymous, and create a passcode to open the app.
The changes came about through consultation with local human rights group Article 19, which received input from M-Coalition, Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality and Helem.
Check M-Foundation for more information on HIV testing in the Middle East.