SEARCHING FOR HAWA'S SECRET
Director: Larry Kotz; Producer: Joe MacDonald
Thirty million people in the world are infected with HIV. Almost 70% of them
live in sub- Saharan Africa. In Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, when you pass
a hundred people on the street, 15 to 20 of them may well carry the virus.
But the key to beating AIDS might also be there, at the very epicenter of the
epidemic. Searching for Hawa's Secret tells the story of this remarkable
scientific quest to find a prevention rather than a cure: a difficult
struggle in a world where vaccine research gets only 1% of AIDS funding.
Frank Plummer is a microbiologist who went to Kenya in 1981, before AIDS.
AIDS didn't take him to Africa, but it has kept him there, searching for a
vaccine. Plummer believes he is on the verge of something
astonishing---thanks to a 37 year-old prostitute in Kenya named Hawa
Chelangat who supports her five children through commercial sex. Since the
beginning of the AIDS epidemic, finding a vaccine that would work against HIV
has confounded scientists, but Plummer believes the clue to the puzzle could
be hidden in a tiny group of Kenyan prostitutes such as Hawa.
Plummer discovered that among the hundreds of women who came to his clinic, a
small percentage of them, like Hawa, did not become infected with the HIV.
He believes a vaccine for the dreaded disease might come from duplicating
whatever it was that seemed to make this small group of women immune.
Plummer's work has radically shifted the paradigm of AIDS research.
Scientists elsewhere have now started to look for other groups with natural
immunity and have found some, in West Africa among prostitutes in Gambia, and
among some gay men in San Francisco. There is reason for hope, but the
struggle is far from over.
A fascinating documentary that contextualizes the AIDS plague against the
backdrop of racism, economics and politics that can be used across various
curricula, e.g., anthropology, international public health, health risk
communications, African studies, and science.
The cost of this new video would be $225. If you'd like to order this title
from the National Film Board of Canada, please call 800-542-2164.
National Film Board of Canada