If you have 30 minutes of free time, use it to watch “The Lazarus Effect”, a short documentary about the effect that Antiretrovirals (ARVs) have on people who are HIV positive and suffering from AIDs. The drastic transformation that children and adults alike undergo when given the proper treatment is stunning.

It’s not just about sick people getting healthier. It’s about parents being able to care for their children, children being able to go to school and dream about their futures, and families being kept whole. It’s about human dignity. Look at the pride Concilia shows when she’s able to buy groceries for her daughter, the way Paul talks about being able to ride a bicycle and help with chores, or Bwalya’s excitement at being able to go back to school and play with her friends. If the medicines exist to help people lead normal lives, shouldn’t everyone have access to it?

Health is important in and of itself, but it also translates into a healthier economy, better education for youth, and more secure societies. The devastating effects of untreated AIDS on an individual are magnified when their family must care for them, adding to what is often an already existing burden of poverty. The number of AIDS orphans continues to grow, especially in Africa. Many have family members that take them in and raise them; many don’t. As the epidemic continues to grow, we are facing a generational crisis of children, a large portion of whom are HIV positive themselves, growing up with little or no adult support.

Some food for thought after watching this film:

  • When Constance Mudenda and her husband find out that they are both HIV positive, why do they put their resources toward ARVs for him, and not for her? Is this common? Do men get priority treatment if finances require a choice? In a family with two sick parents or several sick children, how do they decide who gets to live and who has to die?
  • How well do these programs follow up with spouses and partners? Paul talks about finding out about his status, and mentions how much he loves his wife. Has she been tested?  If she tests negative, what do they do to keep her that way?
  • Is access to life-saving treatment a privilege or a right? We know that Africa has millions of HIV positive people who need ARVs, and most of them currently are not receiving them. Whose responsibility is it to provide them with the drugs they need to stay alive? Is it their personal responsibility to come up with the money and if that means no food, then oh well, tough luck? Should the drug companies be required to donate certain amounts? Should the national governments of those countries buy the drugs? Should the UN? Should we? Currently a very large portion of the funding for ARVs in Africa comes from PEPFAR, a US initiative launched in 2003 under the Bush administration to combat AIDS. In addition, up to $48 billion has been allotted for combating HIV/AIDs, TB, and Malaria in Africa through 2013. Will this be enough? ARVs are highly effective, but have to be taken every day, forever – as soon as an individual stops taking them, the virus reactivates.  So is this sustainable?

Personally, this film left me with as many questions as it did answers. Hopeful, but overwhelmed. The numbers are so daunting sometimes that humanity gets lost in statistics.  I think this documentary puts a face on the life-saving effects of these drugs, and makes the battle worthwhile on a personal level.

You know you have 30 minutes of free time.  Skip a Simpsons rerun tonight.  And pass it on.