Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) has consistently presented itself as a hot topic in both news and healthcare. HIV is a retrovirus that attacks the T helper lymphocytes, which are the white blood cells primarily responsible for immunity. Since the virus’ first appearance in the 1980s, there have been numerous advances towards treatment. Currently, there are pharmaceutical companies that claim to be in the production of a HIV vaccine. Nonetheless, there have also been stereotypes that have developed since its first appearance. Remembering the first time that I had learnt about HIV/AIDS in high school, I recall my biology teacher stating, first off, that it is not a ‘homosexual disease’. I found it refreshing that this stigma was publicly addressed in a high school classroom. I do not know if any of my classmates held this view of HIV/AIDS. However, if they did, this would have been the chance for them to be set straight. Unfortunately, there are many people who, at a young age, are uneducated on the subject and only perceive stereotypical images of HIV/AIDS. I would like to believe that as people age, they become more informed as well. However, even though we gain new knowledge and insight on HIV/AIDS each year, there are still some who hold on to these out dated views. Constant education needs to be provided that illustrates the diverse group of people that HIV/AIDS can affect. This will hopefully, in the long-run, shatter these negative stereotypes. One great way to educate people on this topic is in the form of film. ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, which came out in 2013, portrayed Ron Woodroof, who was diagnosed with AIDS and told he only had 30 days to live. There have also been numerous documentaries on the topic of HIV/AIDS. One particular documentary that I will discuss in this blog is called ‘It’s Not Over’. The director of the film, Andrew Jenks, is known for many of his documentaries, such as ‘Room 335’, and his MTV hit show ‘World of Jenks’. The documentary ‘It’s Not Over’ centers on three individuals, in particular three millennials. These millennials come from different parts of the world, and contribute different experiences and attitudes towards the illness. Even though one of them is not diagnosed with the HIV virus, they are all still affected by HIV/AIDS.
Lucky, South Africa
The first introduction begins with an individual named Lucky. He is from Khayelitsha, South Africa, where it is approximated by locals that 80-90% of individuals have HIV/AIDS. While Lucky is not infected with the HIV virus, he is still greatly affected by it. Once a month, Lucky teaches and educates young teenagers. He discusses several topics with them, one of them being HIV prevention. Additionally, he coaches teenagers in soccer and basketball. While coaching, he again stresses the importance of HIV prevention. Even the fact that Lucky is coaching these teenagers is helping them decrease their chances of contracting and spreading HIV. Lucky explains that many people in Khayelitsha make bad decisions because they are out of work and bored. This boredom leads to activities that increase the risk of HIV infection, such as drug abuse, prostitution, and rape.
Even though Lucky is not infected with the HIV virus, Lucky introduces Andrew to an individual who is. This man is one of the few people in the town who will talk about his status publicly. He goes by the name ‘X’. In his home, ‘X’ explains to Lucky and Andrew his medicine regime. He takes one antiretroviral pill eight times a day. This medication will help the virus remain dormant in his body. At this point, there is no cure for HIV, so ‘X’ will have to take this medication until he dies. ‘X’ also explains the stigma of being diagnosed with the HIV virus. He says: “When days are dark, friends are few”. Many people are shunned because of their HIV status, which causes others to not let their HIV status known. In the midst of this film, Lucky’s back story is uncovered. He admits that he did not always walk on the right path in life. Whenever he was in the tenth grade, he got in a fight with some boys from another area that were around his age and stabbed someone. Afterwards, he was brought to a youth detention center. Whenever he was finally discharged, he got a job, and everything was normal for a while until he ran into the person he stabbed. The man took out a gun and shot Lucky. He was at the hospital in critical condition for some time, however he pulled through. From this experience he had realized that it was time for him to turn his life around and become being more involved within his community, especially in attempts to help the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Paige, United States of America
While the second part of the film travels to the other half of the world, another one of the millennials is introduced. Paige is a freshman at Ball State University. She was diagnosed with HIV when she was three years old, however she probably contracted the disease before birth. The first glimpse of her in the film is while raising money for a hospital that she has been treated at since she was three years old. She is an advocate for HIV awareness by openly discussing her HIV status. Throughout the movie, she is always seen in high spirits.
However, throughout the film it is discovered that she has not always been this cheerful in her early life and kept her HIV status a secret. It wasn’t until the sixth grade that she finally had the courage to tell one of her friends the truth. As this happened, the news spread throughout her entire middle school. She once even had a note posted on her locker saying “No AIDS at this school”. Another time, a soccer coach from another school made a joke saying that Paige should use her HIV status to her advantage so that the other soccer players would stay away from her and she would be able to score more goals. From these upsetting events in Paige’s childhood, she started developing mental health issues. She began to have suicidal thoughts, as well as stress-induced seizures. By the time she got into freshman year of high school, she was still severely depressed and swallowed 15 sleeping pills. Nonetheless, she overcame these mental illnesses and became an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness. During the film, Paige’s friends express how amazing and strong she is. She is a said to be a great example and gives back generously with HIV/AIDS related causes. Another cause that Paige volunteers with is Camp Kindle, a summer camp for children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. During the film, Andrew and Paige visit her favorite camper, Hailey, who has three adoptive brothers with HIV. In viewing Paige and Hailey’s interactions during the film, it is clear that Paige has made a great impact on her. Throughout the film, Andrew asks Paige several questions about living with HIV. He asks her about having sex while being HIV positive. Paige describes several ways in which HIV positive individuals can safely have sex. She explains that it is harder for females to pass it on to males. Additionally, if a person has been taking their medication regularly, the virus should be undetectable in the body and this reduces the risk of passing it on. As well, she mentions using condoms, and how there is medication available that the partner of someone with HIV can take to reduce the chance of them being infected. So if both the HIV infected person and their partner are on medication, this extremely decreases the rate of sexual transmission.
The third person met in this film is in, yet again, another contrasting area of the world. His name is Sarang. He was diagnosed with HIV a couple of years ago. He is a theatre director, in the midst of directing a LGBTQ adaptation of an old Indian tale called ‘the Shanti Priya’. He is also gay in a country which outlaws homosexuality. Because of this, he considers himself ‘an illegal person’. Even though homosexuality is prohibited, he is still see seen walking in the annual pride parade to show his support towards the LGBTQ community in India. Just like Paige, he has had to combat depression. He is constantly depressed and worried about how he might spread the disease to someone else. For this reason, he is always afraid of embracing his loving and romantic partner, Chetan. The reason for his constant worrying is because, unlike Paige and ‘X’, Sarang is not on antiretroviral medication. This may come as a shocking discovery, however many developing countries do not medically intervene with HIV positive patients until their CD4 count drops to 250 cells/mm3. When someone’s CD4 count is less than 200 cells/mm3, they are classified as having AIDS. However, even before someone is at 250 cells/mm3, they could be infectious and possibly transmitting the virus to others.
The film closes with a simple, yet powerful message about an idea that collectively needs to be implemented to improve the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As ‘X’ states at the end of the film: “You are all here, and asking me questions. I am not powerless.” These few words stress that the key to understanding the disease is education. The idea is that this education can take many forms, and there is no reason for us to be ignorant. We are living in a world where we have infinite resources at our disposal. As well, if there is someone you know who is affected by this disease, take the time to talk to them about it. Asking them questions helps them feel empowered and will simultaneously shed some light within yourself by gaining another perspective. The World Health Organization offers more information on the topic and can be visited at the following link: http://www.who.int/hiv/topics/en/. To learn more about the film, ‘It’s Not Over’ visit: http://www.itsnotoverfilm.com/.