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World AIDS Day 2014: Five Data Points, Four News Items, and Three Films

December 1, 2014

Today is World AIDS Day, an annual day of remembrance and reflection on the global AIDS crisis held since 1988. Overshadowed this year by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, we should keep in mind that this problem is not over even if it has receded from news coverage in recent years. Here are 5 facts and 4 news items about the state of the current epidemic to keep in mind, and 3 recent films – How to Survive a Plague, Fire in the Blood, and the Dallas Buyers Club, which help bring some context to understanding grassroots mobilization in the U.S. and internationally to combat the AIDS epidemic. 

5 Data Points

1) 35 million people are estimated to be living with HIV.

2) 39 million people have already died of AIDS, 1.3 in 2013 alone.

3) The available resources to combat the AIDS epidemic dramatically scaled up in the last decade, much of it funding the provision of antiretroviral drugs to keep people alive


4) 13.6 million people are estimated to be on life-extending antiretroviral therapy, but this still only covers a fraction of the 35 million people living with HIV and sick enough to require treatment.


5) There were an estimated 2.1 million infections in 2013, 70% of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. Unless dramatic improvements in prevention succeed, the number of people living with HIV who need lifelong treatment will continue to increase.


4 News Stories

1. Support TAC.  The Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, one of the leading AIDS advocacy and service organizations, is suffering from financial problems and is seeking support to keep its clinics and campaigns going.

2. Global Fund Financing Model. The Global Fund’s new financing model is focusing its resources on poor countries. Critics worry that poor people in middle-income countries may lack access to treatment if their governments choose not to support treatment. I generally agree with the Global Fund direction to focus its limited resources on countries that cannot pay for treatment and prevention programs themselves.

3. An estimated 1.2 million Americans have HIV, only 14% don’t know their status. Shockingly, among those who know, less than half have access to treatment, according to the CDC.

4. The latest campaign from UNAIDS is the so-called 90-90-90 plan that by 2030, 90% of those infected know their status, 90% of the people have access to treatment, and 90% have suppressed viral loads to prevent transmission. I’d like to see how well that maps on to the prevention agenda and breaking the back of transmission of the virus.

3 Movies

1. How to Survive a Plague  – If you haven’t yet seen this Oscar-nominated documentary on ACT UP and the U.S. AIDS advocacy movement that galvanized the U.S. government and pharma companies to produce breakthroughs to combat HIV, you should. Available on Netflix.

2. Fire in the Blood

This documentary captures the global portrait of AIDS advocacy and mobilization, focusing on the failure of branded pharmaceutical companies to make their products available to poor people in the developing world. It champions the heroic efforts by Indian generic companies in bringing antiretroviral drugs to market at low prices. A provocative documentary, though the early cut I saw was unfair to the Bush Administration which was responsible for a massive increase in the funds available for AIDS and ultimately, albeit slowly, embraced the purchase of generic drugs for use in its bilateral program, PEPFAR.

3. Dallas Buyers Club

Alright, alright, alright, Matthew McConaughey is a serious actor. I finally saw this movie this past weekend. This is the story of the transformation of a homophobic, racist cretin into a HIV+ pioneer who smuggled drugs into the country to get treatment options into the hands of those who needed it. Is it true? I don’t know, but it was entertaining in only a slightly maudlin Hollywood way.

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Joshua Busby is an Associate Professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin. He is the author of Moral Movements and Foreign Policy (Cambridge, 2010) and the co-author, with Ethan Kapstein, of AIDS Drugs for All: Social Movements and Market Transformations (Cambridge, 2013). His main research interests include transnational advocacy and social movements, international security and climate change, global public health and HIV/ AIDS, energy and environmental policy, and U.S. foreign policy. He also tends to blog about global wildlife conservation.