The superhero named Vacuman arrived at La Cueva, a strobe-lit, subterranean gay disco in Lima, Peru, at midnight. Dressed in a white body leotard with a plunging neckline to show off his pecs, he danced his way to the stage accompanied by the Impacta Universe Boys, an entourage of buff young men in briefs and go-go boots.
It was quite the entrance, which was the point.
Vacuman is the creation of the Asociación Civil Impacta Salud y Educación, an HIV clinical research site in Lima and part of the global HIV Vaccine Trials Network based at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Played by an easy-on-the-eyes model, his job is to draw attention to the need for a vaccine against HIV/AIDS. And those disco patrons can help scientists develop one.
Impacta community educators and clinical trial recruiters accompanied the superhero on his monthly tour of Lima discos, bringing buckets of condoms to communities hit hardest by HIV along with information about a possible new path to a long-sought preventive vaccine.