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The good news is that new HIV infections have fallen by 20% over the past 10 years. 56 countries, including almost all countries in sub-Saharan Africa, have stablised or slowed down rate of new infections.

The bad news is, well, there were 2.6 million people newly infected with HIV in 2009, including 370,000 babies. And still over 7,000 people are newly infected with HIV every day, and that boils down to two new infections for every person that goes on treatment. It’s kind of scary that considering the great reduction, the numbers remain so high. There is still so much to be done, I guess that’s why UNAIDS is calling for a Prevention Revolution.

Prevention works. After the big insistence on everything having to be evidence based before it could be scaled up, there’s enough research out there that shows that prevention works – the 20% decrease for one. But more needs to be done on prevention, more money, more initiatives. The issue is the same, but the audience is different, they are more savvy, more wary, more complacent. The vehicles for spreading the message are different too. New technology has made the mode of communication more advanced, more interactive, and basically given us more opportunities to engage and innovate.

This is key for changing the course of the epidemic – to getting young people to actually pay attention and do something. You have to take risks, almost get banned. Something that unfortunately those holding the purse strings aren’t so sure about doing. I get it, risk and change is scary. Personally, change makes me really nervous, I’m one of those people, that is terrified of embracing change, I don’t like the unknown.

However, this isn’t an issue we can afford to stand still about and play it safe. Change is about evolving, it’s about constantly creating and diversfying and innovating and ultimately being successful, it’s the revolutionary approach that UNAIDS is advocating for…

We did that this year, it also helped that we had most of our own money to do the programme we truely believed in.

I spend a lot of time watching MTV – it could be slightly unhealthy, but hey, you need to know your product right? So last year when 16 and Pregnant premiered in the UK I was hooked. I watched the show each week and the impact it had on me – I decided pregnancy wasn’t for me – made me think how the format informs but also provokes. Observatory documentaries are the new reality shows. There is something grossly appealing about watching other people’s lives, people who aren’t famous, but still seem to be struggling with something. I’m guessing it’s the perverse nature in us that makes us think, ‘wow maybe my life isn’t that bad’, while still making for great, informative, TV.

So I pitched the idea, why not make a 16 and Pregnant style show, but using HIV/AIDS as the focal point? It took some pushing to get buy in but after working with my colleague on the idea, it was greenlit. I didn’t end up working on the show, but I’m glad that we did it. It was a shift from what the Staying Alive campaign has previously done – none of which was bad, but was current for that particular time – we embraced that change and we’re on to a winner. Me, Myself and HIV is a one hour self-narrated programme that follows two 20-something year olds who are HIV+, one in Zambia and one in Minneapolis, USA. It looks at their lives as they go about doing ordinary day to day things, like dating, trying to launch a career, get educated, while balancing living with HIV.

The website follows up with Slim and Angelikah after we finished filming with them. But also shares other stories from people infected with and affected by HIV, as well as providing information for people to get tested, and join our quest to get at least 10,000 people to pledge to get tested.

On the social media side we’re using Twitter to conduct twitterviews with celebs to talk about testing and spread the message on twitter using the hashtag #MTVgettested. We’re using formspring to enable our users to ask Slim, Angelikah and our resident doctor (provided through our partnership with the Hollywood Health and Society) questions. This is a comprehensive campaign that fully integrates analogue and digital. Though our plans for Shuga 2 are even more comprehensive!

The revolution starts here!

Please watch the show, December 1st, and let me know what you think about it. Have we got it right? I don’t know, you let me know. I will leave you with this thought though, enough is enough, in the words of Michel Sidebe, 7000 new infections a day is still unacceptable, we need to put our money where our mouth is and take some risks.

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The last few months have been rather intense, both personally and professionally. Change is always a difficult thing to go through, but sometimes you just have to embrace it and hold on.

With less than a month to go before World AIDS Day, we’re full steam ahead to deliver one of our most integrated campaigns yet – if all goes according to plan. It’s also a new programming format for us, mixing reality style with documentary type story lines. I wish I could say it’s an obs-doc, but it’s not quite, not yet…

Coupled with this one hour special is a dedicated website, which we hope will be a one-stop destination for young people needing to find out all they need about testing and/or living with HIV.

I have to admit this format and indeed this website has been a goal of mine for awhile. When I first lost my brother in 2006, a change started in me, regarding the type of messages I thought we should be communicating to the audience, yes putting across the use the condom message was still important but it wasn’t enough (and I’m simplifying the messages we put across, it was more than just use a condom).

In 2009 when I lost my other brother, I knew it was time to change things up.

I still believe it’s important to put across the more positive, inclusive message of you can live a healthy, productive life with HIV, but I also think we can’t shy away from some of the more negative aspects of living with HIV. Like with any terminal illness there are good and bad days. And with the bad times, it affects everyone who loves you. Never before did the saying ‘if you’re not infected, you’re affected’ resonate with me than when I lost my brother. And even now, as I watch other relatives battling with the virus.

And so the process to tell the real stories of young people living with HIV began earlier this year. Do I think we’ve got it right? Well, I’ll let you guys be the judge of that, come December 1st.

I think there are so many stories to be told that what we’ve started is just the tip of the iceberg and it shouldn’t end here. Ultimately Me, Myself and HIV, should resonate with young people already living with the virus, but also give an opportunity for someone to walk in the shoes of one of these kids (they’re early 20s, hardly kids I suppose), for just one day. It’s not about pity, it’s not about differences, it’s much more about similarities, with that extra layer of HIV to complicate some things.

Look out for it – coming to a screen near you – on December 1st.

A year ago I tried everything to get out of going to the AIDS conference. I’ve been to every AIDS Conference since Durban (2000) bar Bangkok and I’ve just been feeling the AIDS fatigue bug myself. So when it was decided that I was leading our initiatives at this year’s conference in Vienna, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy.

Technically I should have been. I knew before we even saw the results, that we’d be announcing the impact evaluation results from our multi-country study of the Ignite project – which I led – and there was the Viacom initiatives as part of the HIV/AIDS sub-committe that I co-chair, so technically it made sense that I should lead our involvement. I still wasn’t jumping for joy.

The results from our programming are worth going to Vienna for. And in true MTV style we’ve made it a bit of an event (on a budget). Viacom isn’t scaling back either, we’re having our biggest booth, therefore presence, than ever before, and we’re aiming to top our Mexico party (hard to do, but I’m feeling our leadership in action theme). Today I saw the remaining artwork for the signage and I’m actually excited about going to Vienna.

I’m excited because we’re showing that we do care. As a company we could just pay lip-service, but with the presence of the senior executives attending as well as our investment in these events, I think we are saying, we care, we matter, and we want to keep being involved.

And somewhere along the line I hope to learn a lot, but not get information overload. I was actually looking at the new UNAIDS report and was glad to see that it was in an easy to digest format, and with a decent number of pages that didn’t make me have to put aside too much time to go through it. I like the fact that UNAIDS is prioritising youth leadership – as I’ve always had a problem with tokenism but also with youth thinking they’re entitled to Lord knows what – but to have them meaningfully engaged, that’s what matters. As long as they know that they too have to put the work in. Leadership is a huge responsibility. As I say, great leaders are born, but anyone can learn to be a leader, as long as they take up the challenge themselves.

But I’ll also be glad when the conference is over – so I can get some sleep. Going to bed at 2am two nights in a row is no fun. Today, I had to give in and attempt to go to bed early – I should hit my usual 11ish bed time. Though when I get back from Vienna, I’m in London for like two days before I jet off to Joburg for a planning meeting with the base Africa team. Happy days.

Anyway look out for my blogs while in Vienna, I’ll keep you posted.

I’m tired. I’m working hard and long hours, all in the run up to the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, in a couple of weeks. But I’m excited too. Yes in the past Staying Alive has done major events at the conference – The Bill Clinton Forum in 2002, 48 Fest Toronto in 2006, Sex Uncovered in 2008 (though that wasn’t too major), but I actually feel like this is a major year for us. We announce the results of our multi-country evaluation (Trinidad & Tobago, Kenya and Zambia) for the Ignite campaign. I’ve heard them so I’m pretty stoked and can’t wait to make them public!

We’re having a massive booth where we’ll be doing some pretty cool stuff – can’t say what yet – not that it’s top secretive but the woman responsible for it, likes to think it is. And then there’s is the Viacom Leadership in Action party – can’t wait for that either! I don’t know how we can top the 2008 party in Mexico, which was held on the roof of a stunning boutique hotel – but hey, it was Mexico, can you really compete? We will have top leaders like Michel Sidebe and my girl Marvelyn Brown share their thoughts on leadership in the response to HIV/AIDS.

Because I’ve made it a personal challenge to make HIV more accessible to young people, I worked closely with Ben (a coordinator in the team), who I’ve made responsible for community engagement, to come up with a theme for our online space to bring the theme of the conference to our audience. So last Monday, we kicked off a campaign called ‘The Right to Be Me’, it’s a series of empowering articles from ordinary people who’ve overcome adversity. The idea is to formulate what rights mean to each person, but also to encourage, inspire and empower our audience as we campaign for universal access to prevention. Check out the site to see what’s up there. We’ll also be putting up celebrity interviews on their perspective of their right to be themselves.

So it’s busy times over at staying alive HQ but I’m really excited, as I’m leading the efforts on our presence at Vienna and so far it’s been good, even if there are a lot of late nights and stress – is it weird that I enjoy the pressure? Well it’s because I know it will be worth it in the end.

Though I have to admit, I’m very curious to see the impact of our evaluation – for years people have talked about the importance of result proven strategies (though I’m very much of the school of trust your instincts, as long as you know your audience), so let’s see how this will be received. I’m excited – who needs sleep?!

I love winning awards. Shuga and Travis McCoy’s Unbeaten Track have won Gold in their respective categories at the World Media Festival. I’m obviously very proud, being that I was an executive producer on Shuga. Hoping this is the start to many more awards!

Here is a reminder of why they won!

All we need now is funding to do Season 2 of Shuga – let me know if you have $1million you want to give!

And Travis McCoy’s Unbeaten Track

Travis’ One at a Time track getting some love with some support from friends over at Social Vibe.
Check it out!

This is a re-post from www.staying-alive.org but I really liked it so wanted to share:

When I told my friend Sam that I was a “vagina warrior,” he couldn’t help but burst out laughing.
“A vagina warrior?” He questioned, “What does that even mean?”
A fair enough response to such a statement… similar to mine when I first heard the term. “Vagina warrior” conjured up images of a jousting labia and an armored clitoris fighting other labias and clitorises for world vaginal domination… or something like that.
In reality, the term is far less comical and far more important.

Vagina Warrior: a vagina friendly person of any gender identification who embodies the spirit of equality and empowerment, and assists in the battle to end violence against women.

Sufficed to say, Sam was thrilled that despite his penis, he could join the Vagina Warrior team!

The term was coined by Eve Ensler, activist and author of the critically acclaimed Vagina Monologues. Ensler also created V-Day, her own “holiday” of sorts that corresponds with Valentine’s Day and raises awareness about violence against women and girls. On V-Day, Vagina Monologues is performed in thousands of locations worldwide.

But, as vday.org will tell you, “Performance is just the beginning. V-Day stages large-scale benefits and produces innovative gatherings, films and campaigns to educate and change social attitudes towards violence against women.”

The money raised is distributed to thousands of different organizations but every year the V-Day team choose one particular initiative to spotlight. This year, they’re hoping to empower women and girls of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They rage with a raw yet truthful statement, “STOP RAPING OUR GREATEST RESOURCE.”

Certainly this type of brutality and dehumanization isn’t a fun or popular topic, but it is an important and all too pressing one.

Violence against women (and women not feeling empowered in general) is arguably one of the largest contributors to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Sometimes it’s as complicated as rape and sometimes it’s as simple as a consenting young woman lacking the confidence to say, “put on a condom.”

And yet in these sad circumstances, there is reason to hope. If violence against women, inequality, injustice and dis-empowerment are central causes to HIV/AIDS then it would stand that peace, equality, justice and empowerment for women have the potential to be an arsenal in the battle against HIV and AIDS.

Turning the tide for women won’t be easy and, as strange as it sounds, it certainly isn’t something that women can accomplish by themselves. We need to call upon all the penis-clad warriors to rise with us. Yes we need to educate our daughters, sisters, mothers, friends but we also need to educate our sons, brothers and fathers. (And of course those who don’t associate with just one gender as well.)

But, as my teacher (and vagina warrior on her own accord) Mrs. Mary Morris likes to remind me, “it’s all about setting manageable goals.” So perhaps we can’t change attitudes over night but we certainly can have a starting point.

So I’m going to use V-Day as a launching pad and issue a challenge to anybody who is willing to take it up.

Define “vagina warrior” on your own terms, what it means to YOU and how you can implement these principles into your life. That can mean removing certain derogatory words for women from your vocabulary, mentoring young people or having a heart-to-heart with someone you love.

I’ve sought out some incredible young people to give you their definitions. Use them as a starting place, an inspiration, a jumping off point. And, if you feel compelled, share with us your response in the comments section below.

For Cassie Hoeprich, director of the Women’s Action Committee at the University of Washington and Co-Producer of her schools production of The Vagina Monologues, being a vagina warrior “is more than just advocating for women. It’s about becoming aware of how all aspects of society have created inequalities within gender, but also within race, class, ability, etc. Acknowledging intersectionality can help us understand the different experiences that different women have. Eve Ensler has done quite a bit in advocating for what she had come to see the female voice as, but now it’s time that we start realizing it is crucial to actually include every voice instead of speaking for one another. Being a vagina warrior is respecting the range of people that identify as women and seeking allyship through out the process.”

For Tomek Latak Fior, artist and musician, “I consider myself a vagina warrior because when I’m talking to a girl I treat her as if her life and what’s going on in her world is as important and valid as my own. Like, if she mentions her period or concern over getting pregnant – I know that it’s legit conversation (instead of acting like a douche like some of my friends do). I see girls as human beings, not some idea of what “girls” are supposed to be like. I find that people like being treated like people.”

For my handsome friend Sam being a vagina warrior, “means treating all women with the same respect that I would want shown to my mom. It also means calling people out when they’re not showing decency and respect. I know a lot of guys who think that as long as they’re not being an ass, all is good. But they need to remind their friends to behave as well. I’m a vagina warrior because I treat women like people… I also really dig vaginas.”

The lovely picture of vagina warriors was taken by Lalita Love, a vagina warrior herself.

This post is by Carina Kolodny

Carina Kolodny is a writer and expert coffee shop loiterer based out of NYC. When not writing (or loitering) she can usually be found traveling the world or jumping out of airplanes. She became interested in HIV education while working with the Red Cross in Fiji. This was an enriching though terrifying experience as she hates snakes almost as much as she hates grammar. She counts Fiji, Cuba and Tanzania as second homes and strongly believes in the power of self love and red lipstick.

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