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Fighting AIDS in Africa by Curbing the Spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

The Kenyan film The Silent Epidemic has proven highly effective in the field

Daniel ENGER

01 / 1999

Numerous studies have demonstrated clearly that, as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention program, it is essential to take steps to reduce the spread of STDs.

Here in the Sahel region of West Africa, a great many people have an "I’ll believe it when I see it" attitude with regard to HIV and STDs. The use of high-quality audio-visual resources often proves effective in providing audiences with the visual evidence they are looking for.

The 17-minute documentary-style film "The Silent Epidemic", produced in Kenya but relevant to Sub-Saharan Africa in general, is perhaps the finest audio-visual tool available today to members of this continent’s stop-AIDS community who aim to address the issue of STDs concisely and effectively in public fora.

The primary speaker in "The Silent Epidemic" does a skillful job of situating the film in the world of today - - an increasingly sexually explicit world in which television viewers are ever more frequently treated to the pleasurable side of sex, without being shown the potential pitfalls. "It is like being shown how to drive by being shown the accelerator, but not being shown safety features, like brakes or safety belts. You could be headed for a bad crash."

The film contains a great deal of useful information about a number of invisible potential consequences of STDs, such as infertility, cancer of the cervix, and brain damage.

However, it is the stunning, often gruesome images in "The Silent Epidemic" that make the greater impression on viewers. The film contains footage of children and adults living with AIDS (and suffering from a wide range of visible symptoms), infants afflicted by gonorrhea of the eyes, and men and woman whose genitalia have been disfigured almost beyond recognition by STDs. "These are not pleasant pictures to look at, but we think that you should see them, just to give you an idea of what is going on around us - - things you would normally not see, because they’re hidden in pants."

It is because of its explicit images that the film is not recommended for use with young audiences.

The link between STDs and HIV infection is made crystal clear to viewers: If you are infected with an STD, the chance that you could contract HIV by unprotected sex in increased dramatically.

The film concludes with a brief discussion about the means available to us all to protect ourselves from STDs. In addition, we are told that, if we have an STD, it is essential to get immediate treatment and to see to it that our partner does the same.

"The Silent Epidemic" is praised as an extremely useful tool by members of the stop-AIDS community working at the local level here in Senegal. Mr. Gérome Bougazelli, who serves as a caseworker for the "Poles of Excellence" program of the NGO Africa Consultants International, explains that this film, due to its graphic imagery, has a more pronounced effect on audiences than do other top-quality films or personal presentations by medical staff. He explains that "The Silent Epidemic" generates a strong emotional response among individuals that is often characterised by the fear of suffering the numerous potential consequences of STD infection: illness, infertility, horrific physical disfiguration, and even death.

Mr. Bougazelli says that group discussions after the film is presented are generally spirited and constructive, with people asking many specific questions and emphasizing the need to act concretely, for example by doing their utmost to inform other members of the community and by making STD clinics and condoms more socially accessible.

Furthermore, Mr. Bougazelli reports that it is not uncommon for individual members of a given group to approach him discreetly upon the conclusion of the presentation to discuss their personal concerns and to solicit his advice with regard to available medical resources in the area.

Key words

AIDS, health

, África, Senegal, Kenya, West Africa


Hollywood often glorifies the automobile and the thrills of driving fast and dangerously. However, there is a practical counterbalance, as the big screen also serves up its share of gruesome car accidents.

This is the first time that I’ve seen such an effective counterbalance when it comes to the joys of sex on screen. Even today, several days after having viewed "The Silent Epidemic", I realize that that film has changed my gut reactions to certain movie scenes. Now, in addition to hoping that a given film’s stars survive in the face of grave danger, I find myself urging them to reach for a condom when the heat gets turned up. I also find myself applauding those directors who have had the good sense to incorporate condom use into their scripts.


"The Silent Epidemic" was produced by Ace Communications Limited, which can be contacted at P.O. Box 15182, Nairobi, Kenya. Tel (0254-2)890469/8. Fax (0254-2)890469. For insights as to the use of the film in the field, contact BOUGAZELLI, Gérome, ENGELBERG, Garyor DIA, Fatim Louiseat ACI, B.P. 5270 Dakar, Senegal. Tel (0221)824 83 38. Fax (0221)824 07 41. E-mail:


Video document

TUJU, Raphael, Ace Communications Limited, The Silent Epidemic, In order to gain insights into the use and value of the film in the field here in Senegal, I spoke with Mr. < BOUGAZELLI, Gérome>, who works as a caseworker in the Poles of Excellence program of the Dakar-based NGO Africa Consultants International (<ACI>).

GDT (The Global Dialogues Trust) - B.P. 11589, Dakar, SENEGAL. Tél : (0221)824 97 65 Bureau du Burkina Faso: 06 B.P. 9342, Ouagadougou, BURKINA FASO Bureau du Royaume-Uni: c/o SJS, 7 Allison Court, Metro Centre, Gateshead NE11 9YS, UNITED KINGDOM - Senegal - -,

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