Inside Story Spreading 'Knowledge is Power': Get Tested for HIV

Inside Story Spreading 'Knowledge is Power': Get Tested for HIV

Inside Story: The Science of HIV/AIDSInside Story: The Science of HIV/AIDS

Kalu, a young man from Kenya, dreamed of becoming a star footballer (soccer player). Little did he know when he traveled to South Africa to pursue his dream that he carried in him a hidden passenger: the HIV virus. And little did he know that his forbidden romance with Ify, the coach’s daughter, would spread the virus, infecting her with HIV.

Presented by Discovery Channel Global Education Partnerships (DCGEP) and produced by Curious Pictures, Inside Story: The Science of HIV/AIDS is a modern tale of young love with false accusations, heartbreak and ultimately reconciliation. Inside Story is an African sports drama, with team rivalries, individual jealousies and xenophobia. In its most creative dimension, Inside Story is a masterful and pioneering AIDS education vehicle with sophisticated animated clips that show the science of HIV including the virus infecting cells.

Thirty years into the AIDS epidemic, a smart young man like Kalu, his Kenyan first love, and a young professional like Ify each should have known to use a condom every time. They should have known that even the most sincere relationship may have unspoken secrets. Kalu should have known of the dramatic risk-reduction of circumcision. They all should have known how vital HIV testing is for preventing the spread of AIDS.

They should have known, and acted on that knowledge. But they didn’t. Thirty years into the AIDS epidemic we need new ways of reaching people -- especially those at greatest risk, including the youth, and especially young women.

With a target audience of Africans 16- to 25-years old, Inside Story is one of those films that may do that: reach people that traditionally may be hard to persuade. Using innovative science and compelling fiction, the movie spreads a crucial global health message: knowledge is power -- and knowing your HIV status is an important step. As one of the film’s young stars observed, “This movie made me want to get tested [for HIV].  I got tested, and my friends got tested, too.”

This month I had the privilege of attending the US premiere of the feature-length movie in Washington D.C. For me, the most chilling and memorable scene in Inside Story tastefully, but powerfully portrays the reality of the AIDS epidemic: As Kalu learns more about AIDS transmission and retraces his own path to infection, he realizes he was not the first lover for his seemingly innocent home village girlfriend. He understands that in sleeping with her, he was effectively sleeping with the two others who had been with her, and with each of their lovers, and with their lovers’ lovers, and so on. In one unprotected sexual encounter with a girl he trusted, he was exposed to the risky behavior of more than two dozen people -- many complete strangers to him.

By portraying the development of Kalu’s infections with a meticulously acute timeline, the film also vividly portrays two of the biological paradoxes of AIDS that undermine prevention, testing and early treatment: First, that you are most infectious when you least expect it -- for the first few months after infection. And second, the virus does its greatest damage to your body and immune system well before symptoms appear in most people.

“Reducing HIV & AIDS incidence has a lot to do with testing. That’s the bottom line,” says my colleague Dr. Scott Kellerman, who served as scientific and public health advisor on the film. “We can’t impact the epidemic unless those infected are diagnosed and treated.”

Diagnostic technologies are an essential part of a strong health system in the fight against HIV & AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), malaria and many other diseases. As we move towards integrated health care and universal health coverage, the need for health systems with effective and efficient laboratory services becomes even more important -- not only for HIV testing and counseling programs, but also for blood safety, prevention of mother to child transmission, early infant diagnosis of HIV & AIDS, and monitoring of sexually transmitted infections, TB, malaria and other infections, says my colleague, Dr. Catherine Mundy.

MSH is proud to have worked on this project with USAID and Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership (DCGEP). Through the Building Local Capacity for Delivery of HIV Services in Southern Africa Project (BLC), MSH helped manage USAID funds and assemble a local advisory board. We guided the process early on and throughout the production, providing broad input on the direction of the story and targeted input regarding the science of HIV and its clinical course.

Shortly before the world premiere on World AIDS Day 2011, which MSH co-organized, I attended a small screening of a near final edit of the film in South Africa with health officials, the South African co-producer, and MSH’s local leadership team. It was immediately evident from the discussion how much painstaking care had gone into crafting a film that would combine the power of a compelling big screen human story and the force of scientifically rigorous and carefully selected high impact AIDS prevention messages.

MSH applauds this type of creative and collaborative effort. This film is a new way to reach young people -- people who may have heard the facts, but haven’t yet been tested or taken necessary precautions during sexual activity. The innovative approaches to relaying information about HIV and the risks of transmission are crucial as we move into the next decade of prevention, care and treatment.

Kalu ultimately concludes that “knowledge is power” when he summons the courage to get tested for HIV. If you only take away one message from Kalu’s Inside Story, we hope it is this: everyone needs to get tested for HIV. When it comes to AIDS prevention, what you don’t know can kill you.

Opportunities for seeing the film, spreading the knowledge

Inside Story will be featured at the 20th annual Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles in February. DCGEP and partners will be providing free DVDs for community screenings of the film. You can help spread the knowledge:

Jonathan D. Quick, MD, MPH, is President and Chief Executive Officer of Management Sciences for Health. Dr. Quick has worked in international health since 1978. He is a family physician and public health management specialist.