Last week, HBO premiered The Lazarus Effect, a 30-minute documentary that tracks the transformation of three HIV patients in Africa after 40 days on antiretroviral treatment (ARVs). The film, a multi-media venture of the (RED) Campaign was produced by Lance Bangs and executive produced by Spike Jonze and Susan Smith Ellis. Featuring doctors, nurses and patients at the Center for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ) (an APCO pro bono client), the film shows the impact that large-scale AIDS programs in sub-Saharan Africa are making.
Public health organizations such as the Global Fund and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) (with whom APCO partners through our work with HIV-Free Generation) have been able to fund ARVs for millions of Africans. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit a PEPFAR-funded clinic in South Africa, and it was remarkable to see first-hand the transformative impact these programs are having not only on the people who receive treatment but also on their communities. The Lazarus Effect does a great job relaying that story.
However, AIDS will continue to ravage Africa until we begin to address one of the greatest barriers to treatment (and I’m not talking about funding). It’s been nearly 30 years since the first reported case of AIDS, yet the disease continues to be a taboo topic. The stigma and the shame of the disease are palpable in Africa. Along with testing and treatment efforts, we must ramp up efforts to create greater cultural acceptance. Maybe the sequel can focus on that.