Desperation and the Dallas Buyers Club

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.)

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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 looks…)

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.

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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.

Posted at 15:54

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