News / Health

VOA Documentary Probes AIDS Stigma

Venise Louis, at far right, was shunned by relatives after being diagnosed with HIV infection. She found refuge at a Haitian orphanage.
Venise Louis, at far right, was shunned by relatives after being diagnosed with HIV infection. She found refuge at a Haitian orphanage.

In Haiti, Venise Louis' relatives refused to let the orphaned girl attend school or eat with the rest of the family once she was diagnosed as HIV positive.

In Cambodia, Uch Navy's husband committed suicide and left her infected with the disease that had brought on his despair. Instead of offering condolences, neighboring villagers set her house on fire -- driving off the widow and her young son.

In Nigeria, which imposed a harsh anti-gay law in January, Ifeanyi Orazulike has risked beatings and imprisonment to deliver healthcare information and condoms to other homosexual men. Fear of attacks or arrest deters people from seeking care, says the worried gay rights activist, who's not infected. "I feel discouraged."

Theirs are among the stories chronicled in "AIDS: Living in the Shadows," a new Voice of America documentary on the stigma attached to those with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or the virus that causes it.

Since its emergence in 1981, HIV/AIDS-related illness has killed tens of millions. Antiretroviral drugs and guidance on healthful behaviors have extended chances that the world's 35 million people now infected with HIV can lead full, productive lives if they can access care.

Sir Elton John speaks at the International Aids Conference in Washington, July 23, 2012.Sir Elton John speaks at the International Aids Conference in Washington, July 23, 2012.
x
Sir Elton John speaks at the International Aids Conference in Washington, July 23, 2012.
Sir Elton John speaks at the International Aids Conference in Washington, July 23, 2012.

"I believe AIDS can be beaten ... but only by eradicating its most deadly symptom: stigma," Sir Elton John, the rock star and longtime AIDS activist, says at the start of the documentary. It will premiere July 22 at the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, and will be streamed online on VOANews.com.  

Stigma leads potentially infected people to delay vital HIV testing and treatment. It prompts them to hide diagnoses – fearing discrimination, ostracism or violence – and put themselves and others at risk. Unchecked, the disease can devastate families, communities, whole societies.

"You've just got to get people to understand ... the bad guy is the virus, the bad guy is not the person," says Anthony Fauci, a leading AIDS expert and director of the United States' National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "This is a public health issue, not a moral issue."

A costly toll

The pandemic claims 2.3 million new infections and 1.6 million deaths each year, Fauci says. Countering it requires "education, education and education."

That begins with objective assessment and accurate information.  

In the documentary, VOA takes an unsparing look at how HIV/AIDS stigma affects those living with the disease, revealing shame and isolation as well as courage and compassion. Its reports, compiled into a half-hour documentary, were shot in Cambodia, Canada, Haiti, Nigeria and the United States.

The epidemic hits hardest in sub-Saharan Africa, home to roughly 25 million or 70 percent of the globe’s HIV-positive individuals. Nigeria alone has 3.4 million.

“AIDS has cut short countless lives in many parts of the world, but nowhere more than in sub-Saharan Africa, where Voice of America has millions of listeners, no doubt some of whom have AIDS or who have family members or friends living with the disease," says David Ensor, VOA’s director. “It is for them, and millions like them in other parts of the world, that VOA has produced 'AIDS: Living in the Shadows.' “

"While VOA is not able to offer medicine to fight the disease, its programming has long spotlighted what Elton John describes ... as 'its most deadly symptom: stigma.'  But perhaps nothing VOA has done in the past is as powerful or as poignant as 'AIDS: Living in the Shadows.' ”

Elton John is hosting the VOA documentary because its focus on crippling stigma “resonates deeply with Elton on a personal level and also fits in beautifully with the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s mission and goals,” says Scott P. Campbell, executive director of the foundation in New York.

The foundation supports efforts to combat stigma, provide treatment and lobby governments in the United States, the Caribbean and elsewhere in the Americas. Its sister foundation in London funds programs in Europe, Africa and Asia. Since 1992, they’ve raised a combined $300 million to continue their work, Campbell says. 

A persistent problem

VOA executive producer Beth Mendelson initially planned to subtitle the documentary "Leaving the Shadows." But, in the various countries, she, producer-editor Jeff Swicord and writer-producer Chris Simkins struggled to find subjects "willing to be on camera, to find someone willing to tell their stories," Mendelson says. "I was stunned by how pervasive the stigma still is … despite progress in treating the disease.”    

VOA senior executive producer Beth Mendelson collaborated on the documentary with sound recordist Simon Burles, at left, and director Paul Robinson.VOA senior executive producer Beth Mendelson collaborated on the documentary with sound recordist Simon Burles, at left, and director Paul Robinson.
x
VOA senior executive producer Beth Mendelson collaborated on the documentary with sound recordist Simon Burles, at left, and director Paul Robinson.
VOA senior executive producer Beth Mendelson collaborated on the documentary with sound recordist Simon Burles, at left, and director Paul Robinson.

One of those subjects -- Christian Paige-Bass, an HIV-positive gay man in Washington, D.C., who's outspoken about the importance of testing -- says the mere mention of AIDS still makes some people recoil. "It's like you turning the lights on and the roaches are running," he says.

Stigma can reach beyond those who’ve been infected.

“I feel it myself as an AIDS physician,” says Julio Montaner, director of the British Columbia Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. He helped establish a Vancouver facility at which people who inject heroin and other illicit drugs can do so under medical supervision. Featured in the documentary, Insite aims to minimize harm to users and to reduce their risk of spreading HIV and other diseases.   

Montaner sometimes gets questioned in social settings about why he focuses on the disease and those who have it, he says. “Have you ever seen a cardiologist being asked, 'Why are you a cardiologist?' That alone tells you a story."

But the discrimination experienced by HIV-positive people is exponentially greater, he emphasizes, voicing special concern about rising infection rates and isolation in Canada’s First Nation or indigenous communities.

“Stigma can be direct and blunt or it can have insidious, subliminal effects,” says Fauci, referencing the early years of the AIDS crisis in the United States. Then, the public perceived HIV/AIDS as “somebody else’s problem, [those] who brought it on themselves. That somewhat diminished the interest and enthusiasm” to address the problem.

Since then, U.S. spending on HIV/AIDS research and patient support has grown steadily, the Kaiser Family Foundation found in a federal funding review – though much of the increase is driven by mandatory domestic care and treatment programs. The federal government allocated $29.7 billion for the current fiscal year, including about $6.5 billion for international efforts. The White House, which in mid-July announced its first comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy, has requested $30.4 billion for 2015, including about $6.2 billion for global work.

Panel to weigh in

Immediately following the documentary’s debut, Fauci and Montaner are scheduled to speak on a panel moderated by VOA’s Mendelson. It also will include Nigerian activist Orazulike and Elton John AIDS Foundation representative Mohamed Osman.

Like the documentary, it will be streamed on VOA’s website.

Fauci anticipates questions about the case of a young Mississippi girl born infected with HIV and considered “functionally cured” after aggressive drug therapy just after birth and for 18 months. She’d gone without treatment for at least a year while showing no evidence of HIV. Now almost 4, her recent relapse made headlines when it was divulged earlier this month. 

Fauci says the case illustrates “how we are still in the very early discovery phases of a cure.

"We've got a lot of work to do." 

You May Like

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

US Urges Taliban to Stay With Afghan Peace Talks

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mercy Ederhi from: Nigeria
July 22, 2014 9:26 PM
This article is apt and inspiring. For a while I thought the focus has shifted from addressing stigma issues. Progress has been made in this regard in a country like Nigeria. I would say it isn't as bad as jn the 80's or early 90's,but it is still very much with us.I have worked in a setting where individuals prefer they are dead rather than seek care for HIV, wether the centre of care is with their communities or not.Others find themselves traveling great distances at great financial cost as their own way of addressing the stigma problem.The issue of disclosure among children and adolescents living with HIV continual to pose a great concern as many of our children in care don't get to know about their HIV status till very late in the course of the disease, while others simply die before they even get to know their status. It is a huge problem to say the least.HIV medication is aimed at prolonging and improving the quality of life. However concern over stigma can effectively thwart that aim. All hands must be on desk to fight this insidious enemy!!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs