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Prevention, Papua New Guinea style

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Science  11 Jul 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6193, pp. 160-161
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6193.160

A community gathers to watch a video about HIV's impact on a local family and meet the star.

Early on a Friday evening in March in Kids Kona, one of the many villages tucked into the hills that surround the town of Goroka, some 75 people cram into a mud-floored hut with a corrugated tin roof and excitedly wait for the show to begin. This village cinema, or haus piksa in the local pidgin, has a generator that provides electricity—a rarity here in the country's Eastern Highlands province—and, of course, a screen, which in this case is an old TV set. The standing-room-only audience is so swept up by tonight's video that no one leaves when the generator cuts out, candles are lit, and someone has to make a trip to town for more fuel.

This is not Rambo or a rugby match, both of which are wildly popular in this country known by the shorthand PNG. The slick video, a University of Goroka production titled One More Chance, is part of an innovative campaign to prevent HIV's spread, which has hit some PNG communities hard (see main story). It tells the story of Siparo Bangkoma, a local man whose complicated family life was turned upside down by HIV. Siparo became deathly ill from the virus, but he hid his infection from his two wives until the second wife became weak herself and confronted him. When he confessed, the ailing wife told the other. Both women discovered they, too, had become infected. Rage eventually gave way to acceptance, and the two mothers decided they would raise their children together, but agreed that Siparo would no longer have a physical relationship with the second wife.

A crowd filled the haus piksa to watch an HIV/AIDS video.

PHOTO: MALCOLM LINTON

Siparo is at the screening and speaks to the crowd when the video ends. “You can get HIV and you can live with it,” he announces. “I'm happy because I can stand in front of you and talk out. In my country, many people feel ashamed. I'm not ashamed. God gave me one more chance. Make sure your children are educated. This is a true story. It's my life story. You have to change your attitude and thinking,” he says.

“This is a way to do HIV prevention that's really true to PNG,” says Angela Kelly-Hanku, an Australian social anthropologist who studies HIV/AIDS with the PNG Institute of Medical Research in Goroka, where she lives, and the University of New South Wales in Sydney. After the screening, Kelly-Hanku shows off a bottle of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. “When you take the ARVs, it's like putting a gate around your garden,” Kelly-Hanku says. “Now, the pigs can't go inside.”

The student filmmakers who produced One More Chance have made four other HIV/AIDS videos as part of a project called Komuniti Tok Piksa. They target rural communities, which are missed by mass media campaigns and often have low levels of literacy, teaching people how HIV is spread, the importance of testing, and that lifesaving treatments exist. The stories are told in pidgin.

Verena Thomas, who leads the project, says the 110 screenings so far have all been well attended. Says Thomas: “People on the screen are the heroes, whether they're Rambos or Siparos.”

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