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Utah’s HIV awareness campaign reinstated, but without suggestive condom packaging

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Condom packages developed by the Utah Department of Health for an HIV awareness campaign are pictured in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. Gov. Gary Herbert asked the department to stop distributing the condoms because they contain potentially offensive slogans.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Health is working to retrieve and destroy the packaging of condoms distributed to local partner agencies because of their suggestive and potentially offensive nature.

The corrective action comes after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert caught wind of the relatively new public health campaign, HIV and Me, which is aimed at increasing awareness of the human immunodeficiency virus throughout the state. The campaign aims to increase testing and prevention measures for the virus, and is backed by the health department.

Following a review of “all creative aspects” of the campaign, it has been reinstated, including the HIVandMe.com website, which provides information, resources and support for people living with HIV, at risk for HIV, or people trying to support a friend or family member living with the infection, the health department declared on Tuesday.

It said the cardboard wallets containing “Utah-themed messaging” on about 129,350 condoms associated with the campaign, will be destroyed. Only 44,000 were distributed before Herbert stopped the program.

The individually wrapped latex condoms will, however, be redistributed to partnering agencies “as requested per normal procedures,” without the cardboard wrapper advertising the website, the health department states.

Meanwhile, a “complete set” of the “Utah Risque Condoms” appeared for sale on eBay for $250.

“Limited number of sets were salvaged before they were pulled from the shelves,” the seller, called “pinkchampagne” posted, along with photos of the merchandise. “These are the original thing! Unavailable anywhere else,” the listing states.

The seller intends to put all proceeds toward HIV education in Utah, according to the listing.

The health department was reprimanded and the campaign temporarily shut down last week by Herbert for “not going through necessary approval channels” regarding the packaging, which included common Utah slogans with potentially suggestive double meanings.

An official statement from the governor’s office said Herbert “does not approve the use of sexual innuendo as part of a taxpayer-funded campaign.”

The $353,000 campaign was covered by a couple of federal public health grants and mimicked similar campaigns in at least two other states, which intentionally poked fun to get people talking about HIV.

The governor’s office declined on Wednesday to release comments on personnel matters involving health department director of communications, Tom Hudachko, who was believed to have also been reprimanded Thursday for his alleged involvement in approval of the campaign, according to one of the committee members. But, Herbert’s spokeswoman, Brooke Sheffler, said he “will be releasing all information tomorrow (Thursday) during his monthly meeting press conference with KUED at 10 a.m.”

“There, I believe all the details will be shared,” she said.

At least 3,500 people in Utah are known to be living with HIV, and 78% of them live in Salt Lake County, according to the Utah HIV planning committee that devised the messaging for the new campaign. The group claims that 1 in 15 of the at-risk population likely has HIV and doesn’t know it.

Utah’s “H is for Human” campaign, which also contains billboards and other advertising is intended to direct more people to be tested and take available preventive and treatment medications to keep it at bay.

The health department reports that a new case of HIV, a precursor to AIDS, is diagnosed every three days in Utah, with about 120 new infections each year.

For more information, visit HIVandme.com.