We might not hear about it as often as we used to, but HIV/AIDS is still a massive global health issue, with 36.7 million people living with the disease as at the end of 2016. In Countdown to Zero: Eradicating AIDS, Vice and HBO team up to get a handle on what the status of the disease is and how close we are to seeing a cure developed.
What’s shocking to learn is that it doesn’t take much for new outbreaks to occur. The documentary looks at a recent explosion of infections among drug injectors in a small Indiana town. Where there is risky behaviour, there is still the chance for the illness to have as widespread and devastating an effect as when it first emerged in the early ’80s.
Then there’s South Africa, which has the largest number of infected people in the world at 18.5 percent of the adult population thanks, in part, to the ignorance of former president Thabo Mbeki and how he dealt with the disease early in his tenure. In a rare interview, former US president George W Bush reflects on the role of his administration in drawing attention to the situation in South Africa and other African nations, and the aid and support given by the US to fight the epidemic head on. Bush’s offsider in the cause, rock star Bono, also discusses why it was so important to act to help third world countries deal with AIDS.
Meanwhile, in the US, apathy for AIDS awareness and a spike in new infections among younger gay men is an alarming development, notwithstanding the existence of PrEP – a drug that users take daily and has proved resistant to new infections. Younger generations have not lived through the devastation that occurred during the ’80s and the fight older members of the community had to go through to gain access to drugs, and the blasé attitude towards the disease is worrying.
Of course, what’s really needed is a cure. Countdown to Zero: Eradicating AIDS chats to Dr Carl June, who’s at the forefront of studies into cures for both cancer and AIDS, as well as Timothy Brown, the first man established to have recovered completely from being HIV positive. Brown’s case, and the experiments and research that have taken place in the years since, provide hope of coming up with a cure that can eradicate the disease entirely.
Stream Countdown to Zero: Eradicating AIDS now at SBS On Demand: