State of Denial

PBS Premiere: Sept. 16, 2003Check the broadcast schedule »

Film Update

  • South Africa has sub-Saharan Africa's biggest economy and is a leading contributor to peacekeeping on the continent, having big deployments in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. But with about 4.7m of its 45m population HIV positive, US officials have privately expressed alarm about the impact of AIDS on its armed forces. An international league table in the UN's Human Development Report, published last month, showed South Africa sliding backwards into underdevelopment, primarily because of the economic impact of HIV/ AIDS. (source: Financial Times (London), August 11, 2003)
  • HIV/AIDS remains the single greatest cause of death in South Africa, with nearly 2,000 new infections occurring each day. (source: UNAIDS)
President Mbeki responds in Parliament to strong criticism of his HIV/AIDS policies.

President Mbeki responds in Parliament to strong criticism of his HIV/AIDS policies.

  • In August 2003, after years of delays, the government agreed to begin planning a national treatment program. (Read their official statement.)
  • That same month, activist Zackie Achmat announced that he would begin antiretroviral treatment. He continues to lead TAC's campaign to ensure that the government's pledge is put into action.
  • Two days after the announcement of the plan, there were calls from politicians for Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang to resign and be put on trial for by the Human Rights Commission for gross human rights violations (and) for her stubborn refusal in rolling-out treatment for AIDS sufferers. There has also been concern about her ability to implement the new government plan on HIV and AIDS. (source: Agence France Presse, August 10, 2003)
  • Just one week after the announcement of the government plan, Health Minister Tshabalala-Msimang warned that there may be delays in rolling out the anti-AIDS plan. (source: NY Times, August 18, 2003)
  • On August 22, The Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee) reported that Alec Erwin, South Africa's minister of trade and industry, told a visiting delegation of six U.S. senators headed by Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., he does not believe international studies that show AIDS is reducing life expectancy and slowing economic growth in South Africa. The senators, in southern Africa to study AIDS prevention and treatment programs, will play a key role in determining whether $15 billion in anti-AIDS funding for Africa are appropriated on schedule and where they go. President Mbeki was not in the country at the time of the visit, and Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang had not scheduled a meeting with the group.
  • In early September, the new head of the World Health Organization Jong-Wook Lee expressed doubts about the depth of South African President Mbeki's commitment to the plan.

After his August 31 meeting with Mbeki, Lee said that the president talked at length about how HIV and AIDS were taking too much attention away from other diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, that are rooted in poverty. "To me, he wanted to see more numbers and quality information" about the impact of AIDS in South Africa, said Lee. (source: The Boston Globe, September 1, 2003)

  • Lee spent three days in South Africa, during which he also addressed health ministers from around the continent and visited the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Africa's Centers for Disease Control. At the institute, Lee received sobering news that a study of mothers who take the drug nevirapine to prevent the transmission of HIV to their newborns shows a 40 percent resistance rate to the drug. The finding, although preliminary and not yet released by the Ministry of Health, is likely to raise difficult questions about the viability of the mother-to-child transmission initiative. The Bush administration has been planning to make the program one of the cornerstones of its $15 billion AIDS initiative. The results, if proved true, mean that after giving birth mothers who are treated for AIDS will not be able to use combination therapy that includes nevirapine. (source: The Boston Globe, September 1, 2003)
  • Also in September, the World Trade Organization broke eight months of bitter deadlock when it agreed to let poorer nations import cheaper generic drugs to fight killer diseases such as AIDS and malaria. (The Daily Telegraph, (London), September 01, 2003)


Other Resources

Update on People in the Film

Mary and ChiphoMary, Chipho, and Gift continue to receive antiretroviral treatment. They are doing relatively well, though Chipho is still occasionally sick.
Zackie AchmatIn August 2003, Zackie Achmat announced that he would begin antiretroviral treatment. He continues to lead Treatment Action Campaign's fight to ensure that the government's pledge is put into action.
Lucky MazibukoLucky Mazibuko continues to challenge the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and to advocate for treatment in his weekly column in Sowetan.