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International News

Ethiopia: Videos a Matter of "Life and Death"

December 7, 2009

Two years ago, Wayne, N.J.-based Figure 5 Productions took on the task of creating three 40-minute anti-AIDS documentaries for CDC to use in Ethiopia. To reduce the burden of HIV and AIDS, the videos seek to change Ethiopians' behavior and attitudes about sex and disease.

In a population of 77.4 million, an estimated 1.3 million Ethiopians are infected with HIV. Among adults ages 15 to 49, prevalence ranges from 0.9 percent in rural areas to 7.7 percent in the cities.

The project has required the company to overcome numerous logistical, cultural, and political problems. For example, the company found a broadcast journalist in Washington, D.C., for voiceovers and translations of the audio in the main language of Ethiopia, Ahmaric. Figure 5 Productions also had to hire freelancers and resolve the logistics of getting them to Ethiopia.

Literacy levels are low in Ethiopia -- just 50 percent of adult men and 35 percent of women can read -- so video was a natural choice for reaching the largest audience possible.

More broadly, the company faced the task of understanding and then challenging centuries-old beliefs that contribute to the spread of HIV. The company used a variety of vignettes to communicate prevention messages:

  • A young girl is tested for HIV to show it is not painful or frightening.
  • A boy partially blinded by AIDS is helped by health workers.
  • A midwife modernizes unsanitary surgical procedures.
  • A former prostitute finds a professional job with the help of a training program.

Still, the producers of the videos walk a fine line to ensure the materials are acceptable to both the funders and the intended audience. The script for each documentary has gone through 14 revisions.

Back to other news for December 2009

Adapted from:
The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
11.03.2009; Carol Fletcher

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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