This week has seen some excitement over the possibility of the first case of someone being ‘cured’ of HIV, generating a lot of hope and expectation for future treatments. This week has also seen a little attention on the story of HIV drugs in Africa, which is a much darker story. It’s been told for the first time in a new documentary, Fire in the Blood, which is currently screening in Britain.
It’s the work of Indian-Irish historian and filmmaker Dylan Mohan Gray, and it tells the story of how the pharmaceutical companies blocked the sale of cheap anti-retroviral drugs in Africa. It protected their profits, but caused an estimated 10 million unnecessary deaths. That’s a crazy number of deaths that could have been avoided. You would need to add the Holocaust and Stalin’s gulags together to match it. It’s little wonder Gray refers to it as ‘the crime of the century’.
The documentary also shows the other side, the campaign to change the rules and secure the drugs for those that needed them most. Ultimately that campaign succeeded, although its work isn’t yet finished. It’s an important story, and one that needed to be told.