Yesterday I was invited by (Red) at a private view of ‘The Lazarus Effect a film they coproduced with HBO.
The film is set in Zambia and it shows how ARV’s can bring people back to life from a death bed in less then 40 days. It is a powerful film really well shot. One of the main reasons why I liked it is that it didn’t portray people living with HIV as victims.
(Red) is a intiative linked to the Global Fund to fight AIDS Tubercolosi and Malaria. It is a way to use very trendy brands to raise money. Gap, Nike, Apple are among those brands. It means that some of their products are also branded with (Red): 50% of the profits from the sale of those products goes to provide ARV’s in Africa.I know it is really good and generous, but I still feel like asking: why only 50%? Those are companies that already have huge profits. By associating themselves with (Red) they are boosting their image and enticing even more clients… Sure they could be even more generous. It is about life or death, after all.
One of the key messages of the film was that it only costs 40 cents a day to provide ARVs to somebody in Africa. I think this is a bit misleading. I have been on treatment for 12 years and changed 5 combinations, sometimes because of side effects some times because they stopped working. The medications I am now on probably costs over £25.000 a year. If I was living in Africa I would be dead.
I know it is important to make it look achievable to provide treatment in Africa, however we also have to realize that this is a long-term commitment and that costs will continue escalating as people will need to move to more effective regimes. Already many tretment projects have stopped enrolling new people for lack of funds. In many cases they provide treatment to women only when they are pregnant in order to prevent mother to child transmission.But surely babies, once they are born HIV free, need their mothers and fathers to be alive.
Another question is the quality of the treatment people receive. In Africa the cheapest HIV drugs, with the worst side effects are used. Prof Jane Anderson, who was also at the screening commented ” I wouldn’t give those medications to my pet….But what can you do when people are dieing?
I spoke to a lot of people last night including some of the heads of the Global Fund and the Bill an Melinda Gates Foundation and Cherie Blair. I spoke as an openly HIV+ woman and highlighted the fact that Africans in Hackney or Lambeth, two of London’s boroughs with the highest HIV prevalence in the country, may not have access to treatment if they are without papers or they have failed the asylum process. Because of stigma and discrimination many people, don’t test, or test so late, when they are so sick ,that there is not time for the ‘Lazarus’ effect’.
The harsh reality of African women in London has been well documented by Prof. Jane Anderson at the Homerton Hospital, in Hackney, in the report My Heart is Loaded.