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Changing Gere
08-22-2006
by Randall C. Willis  |  Email the author
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Last week, the world came to my backyard (literally) as Toronto hosted the XVI International AIDS Conference, and I must admit that I went into the conference a little jaded and worn out from two decades of rhetoric about this condition. It's not that I'm ignorant of the ravages of the infection or its impact on the global stage, but after 25 years, it has become really difficult to raise anything more than an eyebrow at the mention of HIV/AIDS. Boy, have I been chastened.
 
Rather than being surrounded by 24,000 attendees beating their chests, pulling their hair, and donning ash-laden sack cloth, I met and listened to people who expressed hope—tempered with determination. A few wagged a finger at cultural and medical laxity, but most talked about the possibilities that were just around the corner if we just pushed a little harder.
 
Case in point: I attended a session entitled "Media and AIDS: Spreading Information Faster than Disease", which included a panel of media people from South Africa, Barbados, India and Russia. But topping the panel off—and causing a flurry of camera flashes—was actor and activist Richard Gere, representing the Gere Foundation. Okay, I thought, I'm about to spend two hours being berated by the Pretty Man…Dr. T without the women…for not doing enough to spread the word about AIDS.
 
Instead, Gere was effusive in his praise for how the media industry had come together to work as a cohesive unit on the issues arising from HIV/AIDS. And he reserved the largest chunk of praise for the panelists, people who were working their backsides off to ensure that the messages about HIV/AIDS became all-pervasive in their respective cultures and who were seeing overwhelming success.
 
Rather than view the problem as a charity that relies on public service announcements, Solly Mokoetle, COO of the South African Broadcasting Corp., suggested that the media industry needs to adopt a business-centered approach to HIV/AIDS. As he explained, his own organization is constantly faced with the realities of the disease within its own employee base. Likewise, a large proportion of his audience is dealing daily with the repercussions of the disease, so this is very much a market issue. With this in mind, Mokoetle and other African media leaders have dedicated five percent of their programming hours to HIV/AIDS, much of it in prime time.
 
Similarly, Dr. Allyson Leacock, general manager of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corp., talked about embedded messaging where broadcasters look to incorporate storylines about the disease into television shows that can be distributed throughout the region, offering an economy-of-scale that cannot be delivered otherwise. For example, Peter Mukerjea, CEO of STAR India, talks about embedding questions about HIV/AIDS into India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and incorporating AIDS-related plot lines into television serials to increase awareness.
 
All this to say that the conference has given me a lot to think about regarding how Drug Discovery News, DDN Online and www.drugdiscoverynews.com can best serve not just the drug industry, but also the global community. As Leacock challenged her audience, the days of only going after the hot story have to change if we are ever going to make any headway. She was talking about the lay media, but I am confident that this too applies to the trade media.
 
Maybe this issue of DDN Online is a start for us. Here, you'll find stories that won't necessarily impact your research or business today, but offer glimpses at the changes that are coming downstream. Enjoy.

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