WASHINGTON, D.C., June 25—Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide has been involved in AIDS education and communication efforts since the earliest days of the epidemic. It has handled AIDS prevention campaigns for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 1987, managed the Business Responds to AIDS program to increase sensitivity to HIV in the workplace, conducted outreach to minority populations, and launched several HIV drugs.
Now the firm is getting involved in what scientists hope will be the endgame in the battle against AIDS. Ogilvy has been awarded a three-year contract by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health to develop a national communications campaign in support of HIV vaccine research. The first year of the contract is valued is worth around $3.4 million.
“Given our organizational history with HIV/AIDS issues, we very much wanted an opportunity to work on this program,” says Tom Beall, co-director of Ogilvy’s health and medical practice. “It’s a chance to help find an answer to an issue we have all been touched by, both professionally and personally, and to accelerate the discovery of a vaccine.”
The first phase of the program will increase awareness of the need for an HIV vaccine, and to keep the public informed about progress in the development of the vaccine. “By 2002 we want to help establish an understanding of where the science stands on vaccines,” says Beall. “In particular, we want to make sure people understand what’s happening as far as clinical trials are concerned. Research companies are going to need to recruit about 10,000 people into trials, and there will be serious obstacles to overcome.”
Finally, the public education campaign will need to convince people to get themselves vaccinated against the virus.
Says Beall, “Many experts believe that science alone will not beat AIDS, and feel that public support and participation will be crucial to success, just as it has helped in eliminating past plagues or bringing those ravages under control.
“Today’s heightened optimism about finding a safe and effective HIV preventive vaccine increases the urgency of helping the public better understand the need for vaccine research and testing. We need the help of individuals, families and communities who are losing valuable people every day. That won’t happen until we get clear information out there about how everyone can help.”
Despite widespread public awareness programs in support of HIV prevention, the number of new infections in the United States continues to increase, with 40,000 new infections each year, most of them among ethnic minorities and young gay males.