To make a big point, a small Austrian men's magazine printed an entire edition using ink laced with HIV-positive blood. The idea, said Julian Wiehl, co-publisher of The Vangardist — a "progressive" magazine aimed at young, urban men — was to make a statement about the stigma still associated with the virus that no one could ignore.
I think you'll agree they succeeded, wildly.
"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 said in an interview. "And the second question is, 'Why would I touch it?' or 'Why wouldn't I touch it?' "
From a health and safety perspective, picking up the magazine is not a problem. As we've known for many years, the human immunodeficiency virus quickly dies outside the body and can only be transmitted by direct contact with body fluids, mainly blood and semen. To be doubly sure, and to kill any other pathogens, Vangardist autoclaved the HIV-positive blood obtained from three donors before mixing it with the red ink used to print the magazine. The ink used in all 3,000 copies of the printed edition is 1 part blood to 28 parts ink, Wiehl said. There also is some blue ink to highlight its "Heroes of HIV" theme.
The magazine comes in a sealed wrapper, forcing the reader to "break the seal to break the stigma," Wiehl said. To avoid violating laws that govern transport of blood or blood products across borders, the edition can be ordered only nline.
Normally, the five-year-old Vangardist puts out 10 digital issues a year aimed, Wiehl said, at young, progressive urban men who, he said, don't fit gay or straight stereotypes. It covers health, fashion and sexuality, among other topics.
But with the Life Ball, one of the world's biggest anti-AIDS charity events, scheduled for May in Vienna, headquarters of the Vangardist, the magazine wanted to make a statement. It came up with a special, printed issue devoted to "Heroes of HIV," and its Geneva-based ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi suggested using HIV-positive blood in the printing process.
Three HIV-positive people — the heroes of "HIV heroes" — donated their blood for the magazine: A 47-year-old mother, a gay 26-year-old man and a 32-year-old straight man. (It didn't take much; all the ink for the edition weighed only 2.5 kilos, or about 5.5 pounds, Wiehl said.) Two of the three donors, he pointed out, don't fit the stereotype we immediately associate with HIV. That was another point the magazine wanted to make.
"The stigma of HIV, although we have all these medical advances, is still a hard topic," he said.
Vangardist also wants the public to note that infections are on the rise in parts of the world, and that 30 years after the epidemic began it is still not under control.
"By fighting the stigma, we also want to fight new infections,"Wiehl said.
AIDS activists have cheered the magazine since it was announced a few days ago, Wiehl said, and sales will start May 7. Media coverage is slowly spreading across the globe.
The next time you meet someone with HIV, Vangardist hopes, you'll already have examined your feelings about him or her, the virus and the ongoing spread of a disease that infects 35 million people around the globe.