Hawa Chelangat is a 37-year old prostitute who supports her five children through commercial sex. She met Frank Plummer, a Canadian microbiologist from the University of Manitoba, in a grim shantytown outside Nairobi. He had come to Kenya in 1981, before AIDS. The AIDS epidemic didn't bring him to Africa, but it kept him there, searching for a vaccine.
Since 1983 the center of Plummer's research has taken place at a clinic for female sex workers in the Nairobi slum where Hawa lives. In 1993 Plummer discovered that among the hundreds of women who came to his clinic, a small percentage of them, like Hawa, did not become infected with HIV. He became convinced that this seeming immunity was more than luck, that something in the immune women's bodies was preventing infection. A vaccine for the dreaded disease might emerge by duplicating whatever it was that seemed to make this small group of women immune. As this startling observation began to attract international attention, Plummer decided to study not the sick, but those women who stayed well, the women whose bodies held the secret.
SEARCHING FOR HAWA'S SECRET tells the remarkable story of the scientific quest to find a prevention rather than a cure: a difficult endeavor when vaccine research gets only 1% of AIDS research funding globally. Despite funding inequities the work in Nairobi has shifted the paradigm of AIDS research, and has scientists across the globe seeking and finding similar groups with the natural immunity. It is also the human story of an unlikely partnership between a Canadian doctor and a Kenyan prostitute.
"An excellent production... highly recommended not only for studies in AIDS/HIV, Medicine, African Studies, and Sociology but also for any individual concerned with the plight of AIDS victims and hope for a cure."—Educational Media Reviews Online
Chris Award, 47th Columbus International Film and Video Festival
2000 AmFar National HIV/AIDS Conference
2000 & 2001 African Studies Association Film Festivals
2001 National Women's Studies Association Film Festival
"Watching this video one gains an appreciation of the AIDS epidemic as it impacts Africa. It presents a clear and balanced picture of the science involved that can be understood by audiences in high school or above. The human drama of poverty, disease and prostitution are dealt with frankly and without sensationalism so that viewers get a realistic sense of life in contemporary Nairobi. SEARCHING FOR HAWA'S SECRET has high quality production values and is... recommended as a curriculum tool for public health, African Studies, AIDS Education, or any cross-cultural studies."—AIDS Book Review Journal