I saw the movie "Texas Buyers Club" on the plane on the way back
from Kenya. (Regrettably, long plane rides seem to be the only time
I watch movies these days.)
Have you seen this movie? Matthew McConaughey plays Ron
Woodroof, a real-life, rodeo-rough Texan, who is diagnosed with HIV
in the mid-80s and given 30 days to live. Ron quickly discovers
that there are no treatment options available for him or others
with this incredibly stigmatized infection. Ron is amazing because
he refuses to give up, and he figures out a way to create a
treatment cooperative that HIV-infected patients can buy into to
get the meds they need in these early days of treating HIV.
(McConaughey is also pretty amazing in how much he looks and acts
like a man who is dying. Usually, I am just impressed by his good
The thing that struck me most about this film was the
desperation. Desperation for medicines, for options, for hope.
Crazy, fierce desperation in the midst of a system that said there
are no options for you if you have HIV. Even if you find the money,
there are no drugs for you. Even if you can face down the
staggering stigma -- the people who think that they will get this
disease by shaking your hand and the people who say this is a
disease for those who have sinned -- even then, even in your
shining courage, there is nothing for you.
We are past those terrible days in the US. As a person diagnosed
with HIV, your doctor will tell you, "We have medicines for you.
You can have hope." As a parent, you will hear, "Your child will
live. And we can keep you alive to see them grow up."
This film reminds us vividly of that terrible time in the US.
But this is a time that is far in the past for most doctors in the
US. Many of those who see patients with HIV these days do not know
what it was like to have patients dying and to be able only to say,
"You have 30 days to live. There is nothing I can give you."
The reality is that much of the world still lives in this
desperate time. Two-thirds of the people living with HIV today
still face the news that Ron Woodroof was given: "There are
medicines, but we cannot give them to you.
Only about 34% of adults with HIV around the world have access
to treatment for their virus. Only 9.7 million of the 35 million
living with HIV. That number staggers me.
For children, the numbers are much worse. Less than 20% of
children with HIV have access to treatment. That's right - not only
is HIV much more likely to kill you if you are a child, chances are
higher that you will not be able to get medicines to treat it, the
medicines that will let you live to become an adult.
And what can you do if you are a child? Children can't vote.
Children don't have money. Children cannot go to court. Children
cannot demand or fight for or travel great distances to seek this
treatment that they so desperately need. 3.4 million children
living with HIV -- and only 560,000 able to access the medicines
that will keep them alive.
This was another thing that grabbed me about "Dallas Buyers
Club": you saw what could be done by one desperate and determined
individual. Progress, access, treatment options - all of which
translate into more days of precious life.
Clearly, the children living with HIV right now need many of
these desperate and determined voices raised on their behalf.