Essay on A Death Gives AIDS A Face: Documentary Summary

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a deadly virus that leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) by destroying CD4 T cells that are essential for the immune system to work efficiently. The Age of AIDS documentary highlighted important issues and concerns during its initial breakthrough. Factors such as socioeconomic status, skills, culture, beliefs, attitude, values, religion and gender all played an affect on the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS throughout the world. Furthermore, scientists, public health members and eventually the government took interventions to reduce the spread of HIV in developing countries.

To begin, the first segment of the documentary, “A Deadly New Age,” discussed the outbreak of the disease in the 1980’s. Doctors and public health members believed it was a disease that affected only the homosexual male population hence identifying it as GRID, or gay-related immune deficiency or gay syndrome in 1982. It was fascinating to see the step-by-step thorough investigation and understanding of the disease. At every step, scientists and doctors uncovered symptoms, the population it affected, and kept in touch with other countries that were facing the same healthcare emergency in hope to find the cause and cure for it.

It was intriguing to watch how the understanding of the disease evolved as more research was conducted. Gender contributed to the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS. Researchers began off believing it was a male homosexual disease than found it present in females and eventually babies. As more cases appeared it was evident that the drug users were also being infected with the virus. Another factor that contributed to the spread of HIV/ AIDS was the Republicans and church officials values, belief and attitude that the gay male population was being punished for going against the natural way.

Similarly, the Christian religion was opposing and excluding members that were involved in such prohibited and unacceptable behavior. The second segment, “Politics & Tracking Aids History,” highlighted the contribution and efforts of Margaret Heckler, the secretary of Health and Human Services, during President Reagan’s term. I was pleased to watch Margaret Heckler put her priorities on AIDS in an effort to expedite the process and find the cause and treatment for it in a time where the epidemic was being disregarded.

However, with a budget cut of up to 25%, CDC was limited with space and equipment. The “Scientific Breakthrough” segment accentuated the discovery of where HIV originated from after a decade of research. It was traced back to West Central Africa declaring it came from chimpanzees, which carried the virus. It was startling to watch how the disease w cross species transmission between humans who were huntergatherers and chimpanzees. In 1984, Margaret acknowledged the cause of AIDS was found and discussed it publicly.

A factor that was seen in the second and third segment of the documentary was that of culture. When the United States found AIDS in individuals with a Haitian ancestry, scientists and doctors started considering whether certain cultural rituals or voodoo was being practiced. Whereas, in the United States that was not questioned which indicated the difference in culture practices in the two countries. Furthermore, in West Central Africa the cultural practice of hunting gathering was still present in comparison to other countries. Another factor that came into play was that of skills.

Although the scientists had the understanding, resources and funding they were unable to come to a conclusion for the problem because the researchers didn’t know how to use those skills to achieve the desired outcome. Furthermore, “A Death Gives AIDS a Face,” was the fourth segment in the documentary that made it evident of the neglect and failure of the political administration to address the issue of HIVI AIDS. This lack of acknowledgment led the community to believe the CDC was not doing anything to for the population that was being affected.

It was surprising to see how it was not until a famous person, Rock Hudson, was diagnosed with AIDS that the problem came into limelight. Due to the stigmatization that followed the disease, individuals were hesitant of getting tested. There was a lot of ignorance regarding AIDS/HIV; the public started wearing rubber gloves in hope to prevent the disease. Students that were hemophiliac were forced to leave schools. Rather than the government assuring that the disease could not be spread through casual contact it did the contrary.

The public health department addressed the community of the ways it could be transmitted. Consequently, “The Lessons of Leadership,” showed how the President of Uganda led a great example on how this issue should be controlled. Until there were different levels of education an understanding provided to the healthcare workers and the community the situation was not going to improve. It was pleasing to see the President of Uganda taking interventions to teach the community how to stay safe and publically speaking about HIV/AIDS unlike the United States where the government pushed the matter under the rug.

Similarly, in Thailand the fear caused discrimination and alienation from the community. The threat of HIV was tremendous and they addressed the issue by radio broadcasting education on AIDS. Additional interventions that were applied that had a positive impact in reducing HIV/AIDS were providing free condoms to brothels and entertainment houses. However, the government was not tolerant about drug addiction, which continued the rise of HIV. A factor that was seen in this section was that of culture, attitude and beliefs.

The African culture believed sex was a taboo topic and white homosexuality was stigmatized. Similarly, in Thailand the Buddhist religion believed it was unlawful to be involved in homosexual activities and it was looked down upon in the community, which led to individuals in such cases to be shunned from the society. Successively, the “Set Backs” segment showed how political leadership differed in the different countries HIV/AIDS was present. Even after the death tolls rising to millions it was upsetting to watch how some political leaders still hesitated to address the issue.

Nevertheless, it was remarkable to see the efforts that other countries started taking in order to prevent its spread. In the United Kingdom, IV drug use was on a rise. Roy Robertson started a needle exchange for drug users to prevent the usage of same needles with multiple people. In this segment a cancer drug, AZT, from the 1950s was also introduced that seemed to have a positive impact on blocking the virus and allowing the immune system to regenerate. It was heartbreaking to watch the reactions of those affected by the disease.

The individuals had begun to feel better and were optimistic in finding a treatment. However, it wasn’t long until researchers realized it was not the cure it had initially seemed to be. The virus was still able to replicate and grow. The AZT drug had become resistant to the virus. This segment addressed the socioeconomic status factor, where the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the pharmaceutical industry charged a high price for drugs that made it impossible for all individuals to purchase. The following segment “At the Brink,” aimed to shame political leaders.

Ronald Reagan spoke about the AIDS issue only once during his term on May 31, 1987. However, once the Bush Administration came 1 million people were affected which led congress to finally start reacting to the situation. To grant funds to families that couldn’t afford the healthcare, the Ryan White Care Act was passed. In the second part of the movie, “Political Indifference” addressed how the disease spread into South Africa. Individuals living there were completely unaware of what condoms and HIV was.

The people there were struggling for freedom, AIDS was an ssue that their country had not been affected by and weren’t expecting. It was enlightening to watch how HIV prevention programs became effective and activists enforced the use of condoms. The next segment, “A Radical New Treatment,” was a bit disheartening since it focused on how the advancement of dormant; it was always at war with the immune system. However, with a lot of research there was a new treatment method that was introduced. If multiple drugs were combined it made HIV harder to become resistant.

The combination of the drugs was known as the Triple Cocktail its cost being $16,000 per year. “The Struggle to get the Drug,” highlighted the issue of treatment being available but due to the cost not everyone could afford the drug. In Brazil the constitution stated Healthcare was given to all. A woman that had been diagnosed with AIDS sued the government for not receiving the care required. Certainly the ruling was in her favor and she was entitled the triple cocktail. Brazil was the first country to create an antiretroviral drug and provide it to all of its citizens.

By this time, the churches had started to become more understanding and the religion started supporting the AIDS/HIV population in some areas. The factors seen in this segment included socioeconomic status and value. Socioeconomic status came into play for individuals that were affected by the disease, since they were not able to afford the care that was needed. Moreover, Brazil valued money over health and therefore refused to invest such a great amount for treatment that could save individuals lives.