The newest battle against HIV/AIDS stigma is being waged in blood and ink.
This month, the small Austrian magazine Vangardist will release a special-edition issue printed entirely in ink that has been infused with HIV-positive blood, in an effort to force readers to confront -- and break -- taboos that persist around the virus. The magazine, which is marketed toward "progressive" urban young men, plans to release 3,000 print copies of the spring "Heroes of HIV" issue, a theme inspired by the three donors who contributed their blood to the project, as well as people living publicly with HIV.
"We believe that as a lifestyle magazine it is our responsibility to address the issues shaping society today," Vangardist publisher Julian Wiehl said. "With 80 percent more confirmed cases of HIV being recorded in 2013 than 10 years previously, and an estimated 50 percent of HIV cases being detected late due to lack of testing caused by social stigma associated with the virus [sic]. This felt like a very relevant issue for us to focus on not just editorially but also from a broader communications standpoint."
As Wiehl explained to the Washington Post, the print edition will be packaged in a sealed wrapper, so the reader must "break the seal to break the stigma." While it is well-known that HIV can only be transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids such as blood and semen, and there is no health or safety risk posed by handling the blood-infused ink, Vangardist hopes to make a statement that challenges the public. (The magazine did take extra measures to ensure the ink would be sterile, and autoclaved the donated blood before using it.)
"If you see the magazine ... the first question that comes to your mind is, 'Would I touch it? Would I take it in my hands?'" Wiehl told the Post. "And the second question is, 'Why would I touch it?' or 'Why wouldn't I touch it?'"
The magazine and partners at the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi Switzerland timed the issue to correspond with Life Ball, one of the world's largest anti-AIDS events, which takes place in Vangardist's hometown of Vienna this month. Each of the three people who donated blood for the issue purposely represents a different face of HIV, another part of the project's crucial effort to reduce stigma.
"With this unique project, we want to create a response in a heartbeat by transforming the media into the very root of the stigma itself -- by printing every word, line, picture and page of the magazine with blood from HIV-positive people," Jason Romeyko, Saatchi & Saatchi's executive creative director, said. "By holding the issue, readers are immediately breaking the taboo."
According to UNAIDS, some of the most pervasive barriers to treatment for the virus are stigma and discrimination, but those aren't the only things Vangardist hopes to stop with the project.
"By fighting the stigma," Wiehl said, "we also want to fight new infections."