BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - From billboards to bench backs, one messy child is all over popular routes in Baton Rouge.
While the ad seems to be promoting condoms as a means to prevent unplanned pregnancy, a closer look at the sponsor's website shows the campaign is trying to raise awareness about HIV through the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF).
"Part of our strategy is to use imagery and messaging that is attention-grabbing," said Imara Canady, AHF regional communications director.
In 2015, Baton Rouge led the nation in new diagnoses of HIV per capita. Local HIV/AIDS Alliance Prevention Director Eugene Collins says that statistic is a sign that people are getting tested, which allows for proper medical care and could prevent the spread of the disease.
June 27 is National HIV Testing Awareness Day. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends everyone from age 13 to 64 get tested at doctor's visits. You can visit gettested.cdc.org for a list of testing locations in Baton Rouge.
Collins says advocates are working to change the tone of conversations about sex, condoms, and STDs. "Stigmatizing elements still act as a barrier to, not only getting care or service, but just getting tested," Collins said. "A lot of people associate HIV with an activity or a person. All you have to do is be having sex, and if you're having sex, you're at risk."
But those on social media may be confused by the billboard. Many users are posting about the chocolate on the child's face, and not HIV prevention. Canady says the goal of the nationwide campaign is to get people talking, and that the billboard is working. "It's about having the conversation," Canady said. "I'm hopeful that folks will then go and use the resources that are out there around prevention. I also hope it encourages them to make wise, impactful, and powerful decisions around their sexual health and wellness."
Canady says the marketing campaign may not appeal to everyone, but that the conversation is necessary. Canady lamented a "silence in classrooms" about sexual education.
"Whether it's HIV, syphilis, or gonorrhea, the very first thing to do that is empowering is to know your status," Canady said.
AHF is headquartered in Los Angeles, although it has a strong presence along the Gulf Coast. Collins says the AHF billboards are a national solution to a problem requiring local attention.
"Billboards are awesome and great and they serve a purpose, but you can't let that replace actually getting out in the community and banging some doors and talking to folks and getting them in," Collins said.