India asks people to save “wickets” in AIDS fight

Cricket-mad India is mixing cricket and humour to promote safe sex and fight AIDS in a bold pilot campaign warning people to save their “wickets” from “unwanted googlies” and protect their “stumps”.

India has more than five million HIV/AIDS cases, about the same as the AIDS capital, South Africa, but activists here say the real number of infections is much higher and growing fast.

In an advertisement on Wednesday by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) in a national daily newspaper, three wooden wickets set against a blue sky are covered by condoms with a caption reading: “Save your wicket from unwanted googlies of life.”

“Even in your favourite sport, you never know when you’ll lose your stumps. Life is also unpredictable in the same manner. Why take chances?” the caption said.

In cricket, wickets are also called stumps. A googly is a cricket ball bowled as if to break one way but actually breaks in the opposite direction to trick the batsman.

Both terms are familiar to millions who passionately follow the fortunes of the national cricket team.

In largely conservative India, open talk about condoms is still taboo in rural areas and small towns.

“Moralising works only to a certain extent. Condom promotion is a must. We cannot be coy about condoms,” NACO chief S.Y Quraishi told Reuters. Voluntary groups welcomed the campaign, saying it must be extended.

“Such advertisements will connect with the people as cricket is so popular. It is the first time we are talking so openly (about condoms and sex),” said Anjali Gopalan, director of the Naz Foundation, a private HIV/AIDS and sexual health group.

Health officials say they will see the public response to the initial advertisements before launching the campaign across India through newspapers and television.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had forecast the number of people with HIV/AIDS in India could touch 20 million by 2010.

Thousands of Indians cannot afford antiretroviral drugs, which cost 1,300 rupees ($29.85) a month - less than one cup of coffee every two days in London or New York.

NACO has also used Indian team players in TV advertisements this year wearing protective gear to promote HIV/AIDS awareness.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.