Directed by Gary Strieker
Part-documentary, part-strategic communication, The Test shares the success of the CarePack Demonstration Project, which sought to lessen the impact of HIV, malaria, and diarrhea on the lives of Kenyans. The film is lovingly photographed and offers a diversity of voices—it makes a good case for its suggestion to scale up these efforts. The suggestion is partial: The film and the campaign were created by Vestergaard Frandsen, makers of emergency response and disease control products who follow a “profit with a purpose” humanitarian business model.
With the support of local, national, and international health and AIDS service organizations, the 2008 public-health campaign set up thirty temporary clinic sites across the Lurambi district of Western Kenya. In Kenya, it’s estimated that less than twenty percent of adults know their HIV status. And a primary reason why, according to the film, is that many would rather not know, or have it be known, that they are positive than to face stigma, even as the cost of not knowing can be untreated illness and death.
In the extended family-centered farming communities of rural Kenya, the high standards of religion-based morality provide a model of living that makes sense to many but the isolating effects of stigmatizing those who have been labeled “sinners” are deadly when that condemnation is directed at those known or perceived to have HIV/AIDS.
Vestergaard Frandsen put into practice their idea to bundle disease awareness, so that HIV might become destigmatized through its integration with stigma-free diseases, malaria and diarrhea. The campaign encouraged people to come for HIV testing and counseling by offering free devices produced by Vestergaard Frandsen: bed nets, to keep out malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and water purifying devices, which filter out water-borne pathogens that cause diarrhea and other conditions. Condoms and educational material were also included in the packages. Employees assembled from the ranks of the company helped distribute the packages and trained each community member in the use of all the devices.
Although the film makes reference to the conditions that exacerbate AIDS, poor healthcare infrastructure and poverty, its message seems to be that people on the ground have the power to effect positive change and that a communal response to the disease makes all the difference. After 47,000 adults are tested within seven days, after people know their status (positive or negative) and can talk about AIDS openly, after positive support groups are formed and those living with HIV/AIDS feel that they can start a new journey, that message is persuasive.
Chael Needle is Managing Editor of A&U.