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Health Department Apologizes Over Utah-Themed Condoms

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Governor’s Office has stepped in to halt a new HIV awareness campaign over the packaging of condoms used for the campaign. The Utah Department of Health has issued an apology over the controversy.

“They have fun, double entendres of Utah making fun of itself a bit,” Michael Sanders said about the condoms.

Sanders is part of the Utah HIV planning committee that brainstormed the concept behind the new campaign.

He said the campaign was aimed at raising awareness amongst those at risk of contracting HIV with public outreach efforts that center around a new website that provides resources and information, HIVandME.com. The site has since been taken down.

“Our goal was to get this information out,” Sanders said.

The campaign was launched in collaboration with the Utah Department of Health and built around the theme, “The H is for Human,” according to a press release published on Tuesday.

“People are afraid to talk about HIV, people are afraid of HIV,” Sanders said.

The campaign included billboards, TV and radio ads directing the public to the new HIVandMe website.

“Once at the website, those interested can find information on local clinics, information on modern prevention methods (including PrEp or PEP), tips to talk about prevention, information on testing, specifics on treatment and available resources for further education to financial aid, among many other topics,” the press released continued.

“We estimate that 1 in 15 of the at risk population are probably HIV positive and don’t know it,” Sanders said.

The campaign, he said, was intended for those living with HIV or those who are at risk. It’s why he said they wanted to take the campaign further with what they consider to be a progressive approach that includes distributing condoms packaged with “Utah-centric” messages and sexual innuendo.

“The purpose of having condoms is not to hand condoms out, it’s to have people pick them up,” Sanders said.

They planned on disturbing the condoms at LGBTQ centers, bars, and other locations where condoms are already available. The condoms include the campaign’s new website on the back.

“We are not handing these out in grade schools. We are not directing these towards people that are underage,” Sander said. “These are adult themes being distributed in adult places.”

The condoms came under the scrutiny of the Governor’s Office, which issued a statement Wednesday requesting that the campaign’s branding be reworked.

“The governor understands the importance of the Utah Department of Health conducting a campaign to educate Utahns about HIV prevention,” the statement read. “He does not, however, approve the use of sexual innuendo as part of a taxpayer-funded campaign, and our office has asked the department to rework the campaign’s branding.

The Department of Health, in turn, issued an apology, saying they regret the lewd nature of the branding stating.

“The Utah Department of Health apologizes for the offensive packaging included on condoms distributed as part of an HIV campaign,” the statement read. “The designs did not go through necessary approval channels and we have asked our partners to stop distributing them immediately. We regret the lewd nature of the branding.

“We remain committed to running a campaign to help in the prevention of HIV and intend to do so in a manner that better respects taxpayer dollars, and our role as a government agency.”

The Department of Health also confirmed the campaign was paused for reassessment. They planned on pulling nearly 42,000 condoms already distributed to its partners. Another 129,350 condoms had been ordered for the campaign.

The campaign cost $353.000. It was funded by federal health grants from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Integrated HIV Surveillance and Protection Program for Health Departments, and the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Ryan White CARE Act Title II.

In the meantime, Sanders has refuted the claim that the designs did not go through the necessary approval channels, saying they worked closely with the Department to ensure approval of all the messages.