Cartoon condoms make safe sex fun

Three condoms – one Hispanic, one Californian and one African – are playing soccer, and they are the only ones on the field, scoring goal after goal. A female voice over says, “You just can’t score without a condom.”

This is the premise of one of 20 animated public service announcements (PSAs) about HIV/AIDS prevention co-created by Ottawa-based producer Firdaus Kharas, who spoke last Thursday night at Concordia’s Hall Building. The PSAs, currently running in at least 25 countries, use humour to promote condom use.

The “Three Amigos” are the talking condoms featured in each ad. The PSAs were edited by Kharas “between jobs.” Kharas hopes the humour in each spot will help to open lines of communication and change human behaviour.

“Humour creates something remarkable,” said Kharas, and is useful to get the message across.

He said humour is the most effective way to reach people. “People, especially young people, do not respond well to being told what to do.”

“Humour is not entirely universal,” said Kharas, so the 20 spots offer a range of options. The PSAs are aimed at different audiences and age groups – using types of humour ranging from slapstick to dirty jokes.

Kharas referred to HIV/AIDS as “a disease plagued by silence” and stressed the importance for society to be more vocal about it.

“History has not presented us with a greater need for open communications,” said Kharas. “From politicians to theologians to broadcasters, people don’t like talking about sex.” This is why, according to Kharas, “we need to see the HIV issue as a disease.” He said that the majority of those stricken with HIV/AIDS contracted it through unprotected sex.

The idea for the PSAs came from colleague Brent Quinn, a Johanessburg-based producer whose focus has been comedy in television and film. This is familiar territory for Kharas, who has made animated PSAs for UNICEF focusing on children’s rights.

The spots are currently being translated into 41 different languages, making a total of 803 spots.

“The barriers we are trying to get around are many,” said Kharas. He claims the world is turning to medication rather than focusing on prevention of HIV/AIDS. The larger the severity of the AIDS crisis in a country, “the easier it is to get mass prevention…this is supremely ironic.”

Another major roadblock, according to Kharas, is the moral opposition toward condom use. He claims, however, that religious leaders are beginning to see the importance of condoms in preventing the disease.

Kharas hopes the exposure the PSAs have received in South Africa will be multiplied around the world. Currently, the PSAs are shown in South Africa on television, in over 400 youth groups, and on the metro rail and other transports.

“We haven’t done a study, but we think half the country has seen the spots repeatedly.”

Kharas also discussed the importance of other methods of prevention, including abstinence, international pressure on countries to keep citizens aware of the disease, and empowering women.

Kharas has spent his own money on the project. “I think it is extremely worth it,” he said.


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