AIDS. Do you think of AIDS much? There was a time, not so long ago, when everyone thought about AIDS. It was the topic of conversation everywhere. It was frightening; it was killing. Every day there seemed to be a report of another celebrity who had died of AIDS or who was suspected of having had the disease. Those days are gone, and AIDS is another fact of life. You don’t hear so much of people dying from AIDS, not here, and the disease has slipped to the back of your consciousness. That is, if you don’t have AIDS or are not HIV-positive, or know someone who does or is.
How many people are 20 million? Looking at the United States, the combined population of Washington DC, Vermont, North Dakota, Connecticut, South Dakota, Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Mexico, Wyoming, West Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska, Idaho, New Hampshire, Maine, and Hawaii is roughly 20 million people. In Africa, 20 million people have died of AIDS. Despite advances in prevention and treatment, 3800 people in Africa die of AIDS every day. At that rate, the population of Wyoming would be wiped out in six months.
The Lazarus Effect, an HBO Documentary film, chronicles an effort at reducing those numbers. It will be shown at 9:00 p.m. (Eastern) on Monday, May 24. At only a half hour in length, it is a remarkable account of the difference antiretroviral drugs make in the lives of those who take them. Antiretrovirals (ARVs) do not cure HIV or AIDS; instead, they block HIV’s assault on the immune system. When taken regularly, they produce a miraculous effect; they bring people back from near death to good health. A treatment that once cost $10,000 per year per person is now available for 40 cents a day. Three million people receive it for free through various clinics in Africa.
When we first learned of AIDS, it was a “wasting disease” and “the thinning disease.” Little was known of this brewing epidemic; to get a diagnosis was to get a death sentence. Its effects are well demonstrated in The Lazarus Effect, as we see children and adults who are weakened to the point of immobility, who are no more than flesh-covered skeletons.
ARVs have had dramatic results in some of these people’s lives. An 11-year-old girl, who weighed 24 pounds and was too sickly to attend school, is returned to good health and the top of her class. A man who could do little more than sit is restored and able to be a contributing member of his family. The people we meet are Zambian, but their stories typify the continent—where treatment is available, people live; where it is not, they die.
Comparisons show the progress some patients have made in as little as three months, and the reference to Lazarus (whom Jesus raised from the dead) is apt. For those who believe that all people are our neighbors, The Lazarus Effect is a welcome glimpse into how we can help each other. The money being used for treatment may come from outside, but Africans helping Africans is the focus.
There are three main sources of funding involved in this miracle, for miracles no longer come cheaply. They are (RED) and (PRODUCT) RED (current partners include American Express [UK], Apple, Bugaboo, Converse, Gap, Emporio Armani, Hallmark US, Dell, Nike, and Starbucks; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector, and affected communities); and PEPFAR (“the largest effort by any nation to combat a single disease,” launched in 2003 by former President George W. Bush).
The Lazarus Effect, presented by (RED), Anonymous Content, and HBO Documentary Films, “is at the center of a multi-media campaign by (RED) to raise awareness about the impact of large scale AIDS programs at work in Sub-Saharan Africa.” It’s an amazing film that shows what people can do when they dedicate themselves to helping others.