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I did my presentation on a film called Miss HIV, a documentary about the clash of ideology among HIV/AIDS policy makers.  I learned a ton through watching and dissecting the film – mostly I walked away feeling that the issue is extremely complicated and that there are (obviously) no easy answers.  Something that fascinated me in particular was the tension between the rights of the individual and the rights of the community – that is, the rights of the individual to have sex even if that means that he/she is putting others at risk for contracting the disease. 

After my presentation I was a little disillusioned.  I was actually very surprised that the class didn’t already have much of a knowledge base about the AIDS crisis and I wasn’t very successful at backtracking.  It’s a big topic to explain in 15 minutes or less, and once you’ve immersed yourself into a topic it can be difficult to step back.  If I could do the presentation over, I would try to better explain the basics of the international AIDS crisis causing this clash in ideology, before diving into some of the controversial issues.  I also wouldn’t have spent the week asphyxiating myself with bleach and paint fumes as I cleaned, painted and moved into a new apartment.

That said, here are the basic issues explored:

  • Botswana has the 2nd highest AIDS prevalence in the world today.  Botswana is also home to the Miss HIV Stigma Free Pageant-a pageant devoted to rewarding women who are openly living with HIV in order to reduce stigma.  The women interviewed who are entering this pageant discuss issues of ostracization, regret, their right to having and enjoying sex and living openly with HIV. 
  • Uganda is the most dramatic example of a country that reduced its AIDS prevalence rate-from 26% in 1992 to 6% today.  This was accomplished by President Museveni’s ABc approach.  He encouraged Ugandans to:

A: Abstain from sex outside of committed relationships.

B: Be faithful to their partners.

C: If they couldn’t do either of those things, then at least use a condom.

He didn’t realize the type of controversy that such a conservative approach would stir up.  Many AIDS policy makers reacted against the ABC method because it encroached upon the rights of the individual by telling people to abstain from sex.  This is a bitter fight that continues to go on.  When George W. Bush signed the PEPFAR Bill (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) in 2003, many human rights activists and liberal aid organizations were outraged, since he included Uganda’s model for AIDS prevention (ABC) in the bill.  The money ($15 billion over 5 years) was earmarked with equal proportions set aside for abstinence, faithfulness, and condom funding.  Because of that, there was less “freed up” money for NGOs to access, and many faith-based organizations are able to access more of the funds because of their tendency toward abstinence and faithfulness programming.

Basically, the film presents us with a warring international aid community that is so wrapped up in its fight against different ideologies that it has ceased to be helpful

There are many difficult subjects that are touched on within the film, there aren’t any trite answers, but they are topics that need to be wrestled with and dealt with.  I think that sometimes AIDS is such a huge issue, so overwhelming to comprehend, that people mentally shut down when it is brought up.  This film made me start asking the difficult questions again.   

Here’s a trailer for the film:

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