Movie Review: “The Age of Aids”

I chose to watch the two part PBS documentary film “The Age of Aids” because this virus effects so many people around the world, but does not seem to get the attention it needs in order to be properly and affectively combatted.  This documentary talked about how AIDS was first an unknown virus that was associated only with the gay male community.  It caused these men to lose weight, develop sores, and die a very slow painful death.  Doctors had never seen this before, and had no idea how to treat this deadly virus.  Due to having no treatment, the AIDS virus spread in an unchecked manner and soon affected all kinds of men, women, and children.  Since the early eighties when the massive spread of AIDS began on this scale, to the time that this documentary was made, 30 million people had died in total.

AIDS has been found in every country, and this virus effects people from every socioeconomic group and every sexual orientation.  It has spread from person to person in a few different ways: contaminated blood used in transfusions, pregnant mothers passing it on to their children, drug addicts sharing needles, and through sexual encounters between a person with the virus and a person without the virus.  According to the documentary, there are 5 million new cases each year.  There is no cure or vaccine, but there are drugs that have been proven to help people live longer and healthier lives.  However, AIDS is still found in the individual’s immune system while on these drugs, it never goes away.  This virus is fast spreading, and not everyone is aware of how it can and cannot be transferred from person to person.  As was stated at the end of the film this is a “tortoise and a hare” scenario where the rapid spreading of AIDS is represented by the hare, the “slow moving treatment programs” are represented by the tortoise.

Africa has been one of the hardest hit continents by AIDS, and due to cultural differences some of the treatments from western doctors have been more difficult to distribute.  In order to combat the virus here, one individual interviewed in the film said: “Don’t parachute in your own ways of getting things done, do it the ‘African way’”.  This quote relates to the article “Ebola, Culture and Politics: The Anthropology of an Emerging Disease” by B. and B.S. Hewlett and Anne Fadiman’s book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

Hewlett’s article brings up how doctors from France and then America would come in and take vials of blood from individuals, including children, who were affected by Ebola.  While the doctors were collecting these samples in order to run tests on them, the individuals who were having their blood taken, and people who knew about the blood being taken, assumed that these doctors were selling the blood in Switzerland (Hewlett, 2008).  This supports what was said at the end of the PBS film, using the western way of getting things done is not going to be affective in such a culturally diverse environment that does not understand what the western doctors are doing.

Similarly, Fadiman’s book discusses how the culture of the western doctors and the culture of Lia Lee’s parents affected her throughout her battle with epilepsy.  One example of such a conflict is when Lia’s parents did not give her the medicine in the manner that it was prescribed by the doctors at the hospital. This situation shows how ineffective “parachuting”, as it was phrased in “The Age of Aids”, of the doctors’ own ways of treating an illness is without any regard or interest in how the Hmong and Lia’s family view her illness and how they wish to treat it or not.

The film relates to this class because it deals with how individuals of different cultures were treated, or not treated, for the same virus.  In the beginning, the only cases that were reported and received attention in the United States were the gay men who had been infected by the virus.  This created a lot of issues, because those who did not support this culture were not supportive of supplying them with the financial support for getting proper medical treatment and the drugs needed to improve their health until years later.  AIDS also became prevalent in many other countries.  The film demonstrates how these multiple countries containing different cultural groups of people all had different approaches to reach the same goals: stop the spread of AIDS and educate both people with and without AIDS about the virus.

I think this film would be a good addition to this course in the future because it shows how many different cultures and multiple different countries worked both individually and collaboratively to prevent the rapid spread of AIDS.  It showed how some governments were more supportive than others of people with AIDS and were calling for drugs to be made available for those who needed them.  This documentary film shows the relationship between culture, health, and illness both within a country as well as between different countries and continents.

Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997. Print.

Hewlett, Barry S., and Bonnie Hewlett, Ebola, Culture and Politics: The Anthropology of an Emerging Disease. Cengage Learning, 2007.

Picture: AIDS infected human cell shown in the second part of the documentary.

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