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San Francisco Examiner
Calling cards promote AIDS prevention
Lisa M. Krieger, Examiner Medical Writer
March 19, 1998
State to distribute them for free Get something for nothing: a free prepaid telephone card - and an AIDS education.

The state Department of Health Services is launching the first long-distance calling card campaign aimed at reducing the spread of HIV, giving away 50,000 free 10-minute cards to Californians at high risk of infection. When you want to place a call, you insert the card into the pay phone and dial.

But first you must listen to a message: "You have the power to stop HIV and AIDS. Use a condom every time you have sex." The recording then refers you to an AIDS hot line for more information.

It's believed to be a good way to target hard-to-reach populations: young gay, bisexual, or drug-using men, particularly African Americans and Latinos.

"It's an opportunity to engage someone in a discussion of HIV counseling, testing and risks," said Drew Johnson of the Department of Health Services in Sacramento. "It's a chance to talk to someone."

Calling cards have been used successfully in the private sector to promote products and services. State health officials aim to use the same marketing strategy to deliver a prevention message to those at risk of HIV. The $50,000 program is part of a three-year, $7.8 million "social-marketing" campaign sponsored by state health officials. The cards will be given away by community-based AIDS groups in nightclubs, bars, street hangouts, cruising areas and sex clubs.

The campaign also has launched the Beauty Salon Outreach Program, a network of African American and Latino haircutters who provide literature, and an upcoming scratcher-card campaign for young adults, to be distributed in record stores and video game parlors.

Health officials have worried that the success story of the late 1980s - when the deadly new AIDS epidemic triggered a profound change in human health behavior, sending infection rates plummeting - has come to an end. The infection rate has not dropped for three years. The number of new infections in the United States has frozen at about 40,000 people a year, 500 to 1,000 of them from San Francisco.

"It is an innovative way to reach people where they are, when they're not ready for more sensitive information," said Robert Perez of San Francisco's STOP AIDS Program.



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