Daloa Ivory Coast

Doc: 00080483 DB: research_d_2002_1 Date: Sun Jan 20 20:41:23 2002

Copyright 2002 By The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

^BC-FEA-Ivory Coast-Cinema and AIDS,0733<
^Customers at adult cinemas in Ivory Coast getting lessons on AIDS prevention<
^AP Photo NY303<
^Associated Press Writer=
¶ DALOA, Ivory Coast (AP) _ The Super Mini Cinema was playing its usual nocturnal fare in the small West African town: pornographic French videos on a VCR.
¶ Then word spread to a packed open-air bar across the street that the entrance fee had been waived.
¶ The reason? Somebody was coming to give the cinema's clientele a message they weren't used to getting: sex might cost you your life.
¶ "I want to tell them that if they're going to try to do what they do in the films, then they have to protect themselves," says Brou Barthelemi Saoure, a local Red Cross official.
¶ The 31-year-old aid worker gave a half-hour presentation on the dangers of AIDS, passing out condoms, playing an AIDS education video and briefly turning the adult theater into a rowdy classroom filled with eager listeners.
¶ About 40 million people worldwide are infected with the AIDS virus, and a staggering 70 percent of them _ 28 million people _ live in sub-Saharan Africa, according to United Nations estimates.
¶ In Daloa, a town of 200,000 people about 300 kilometers (180 miles) northwest of Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan, about one in every 10 adults is thought to be infected with HIV, Red Cross officials say.
¶ The country's 10 percent infection rate for people ages 15-49 is half, even one third, what it is in some countries in southern Africa. Saoure wants to keep it that way _ or better, bring it down.
¶ Red Cross workers have conducted AIDS education campaigns in Ivory Coast for years. Garages, hair salons and other places frequented by the public have been the usual targets.
¶ Bringing the campaign to Daloa's adult cinema houses is new _ reaching young people who are likely to leave the theater and hire a prostitute.
¶ Getting permission to do the presentations from the theaters' owners wasn't easy, though.
¶ "At first they refused. They thought it would be bad for business," Saoure says.
¶ Some wanted money, but Saoure befriended them instead, sometimes buying them a beer or two. To others, he was more blunt.
¶ "I told them, if everyone becomes sick, they won't be coming to your video club."
¶ Saoure's message got through, at least to some.
¶ "People come here to watch pornography and want to go right out and take a prostitute," 20-year-old Kamate Wassi says after watching the presentation. "But it's bad, because in the films, they don't use condoms. People see that and think they can go out and do the same thing."
¶ The problem is that many people do just that, Saoure says.
¶ Finding a prostitute in Daloa, a crossroads for truck drivers from neighboring Guinea and Liberia, is not difficult. Brothels abound and "loose women" are found at the town's numerous bars, many lit by green and blue lights.
¶ Admission to an adult cinema _ there are 60 to 70 in Daloa _ costs 50 CFA francs (7 cents). Prostitutes charge 300-1,000 CFA francs (40 cents to dlrs 1.30) for their services _ though clients sometimes offer them more for not insisting on a condom, they say.
¶ Saoure hopes to take his AIDS presentation to adult theaters all across Ivory Coast.
¶ In addition to teaching about AIDS, Saoure tries to make people more sensitive to the plight of AIDS sufferers.
¶ When he asks the 80 or so people crammed into the cinema what they would do if they learned their sister was infected with HIV, several people shout, "Flee!"
¶ The response sparks an outburst of laughter, and Saoure gives another answer: "No. You must console and reassure them."
¶ AIDS patients all over the world experience profound discrimination, but perhaps nowhere more so than in rural Africa, where knowledge about the disease _ and how it is transmitted _ remains relatively low.
¶ At a state tuberculosis clinic in Daloa, four HIV-positive women say they were abandoned or isolated by families and friends after learning of their infections.
¶ One woman says she is allowed to stay with her family, but cannot drink or eat from the same plates and cups. Another says her friends refuse to even shake her hand.
¶ "It's not the disease that kills you," says one woman, who asks not to be named. "It's the way people treat you."