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The Age of AIDS

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The Age of AIDSOn the 25th anniversary of the first diagnosed cases of AIDS, FRONTLINE examines one of the worst pandemics the world has ever known in The Age of AIDS. After a quarter century of political denial and social stigma, of stunning scientific breakthroughs, bitter policy battles and inadequate prevention campaigns, HIV/AIDS continues to spread rapidly throughout much of the world, particularly in developing nations. To date, some 30 million people worldwide have already died of AIDS.

"It's a very human virus, a very human epidemic. It touches right to the heart of our existence," says Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS. "When you think of it, that in let's say 25 years, about 70 million people have become infected with this virus, probably coming from one [transmission]... it's mind blowing."

And the crisis continues: Over the next decade, an estimated 40 million more people will contract HIV. "We cannot continue just to treat patients as they become infected," says Dr. David Ho, AIDS researcher and Time magazine's 1996 "Man of the Year" for his work on the life-prolonging "triple cocktail" treatment. "The real solution to this epidemic is to curtail the spread of the virus."

Why humanity has failed to stop the spread of HIV is the central question of "The Age of AIDS." Over four hours, the series examines one of the most important scientific and political stories of our time: the story of a mysterious agent that invaded the human species and exploited its frailties and compulsions -- sexual desire and drug addiction, bigotry and greed, political indifference and bureaucratic inertia -- to spread itself across the globe.

Filmed around the world in 19 countries, The Age of AIDS features interviews with major players in the battle against HIV/AIDS: scientists, including Dr. Jim Curran of Emory University and formerly with the Centers for Disease Control, and Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute for Allergic and Infectious Diseases; political figures, including former President Bill Clinton, U2 front man and AIDS activist Bono and evangelist Franklin Graham; and innovative activists, including Cleve Jones, creator of the AIDS Quilt; Noerine Kaleeba, founder of Africa's first AIDS support organization; and Mechai Viravaidya, "the condom king" of Thailand. (Excerpt from

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17 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Charles B.

    Vlatko: I had a hard time getting these documentaries to load. I had to refresh about 8 times to get all four to show a play prompt. Is that must my computer?

    Anyway, A great series of films! Thanks.

    A question: If the AIDS triple cocktail minimizes the viral load to undetectable levels, and people still have unprotected sex (like they said they do at the end of the film), is the virus still transmittable? If it is, then in fact aren't we just further spreading the virus by making widely available the drugs that can't cure people, but will allow them to just spread it more and more more for 15 to 25 years more than they would otherwise?

    I don't know the answer to that one if anyone has a thought about that.

    Nonetheless, the drugs for HIV positive mothers is a great idea to at least stop the spread from mother to child.

    My last thought: What is happening now to all these people now that the Bush plan has run dry and the economy is so poor? Have those who have been taking the drugs now been denied drugs? Are they now starting to "die" again in larger numbers? Or are the drugs still available for many?

    God bless Franklin Graham! May his ministry be double his father's fruitful ministry in the years to come; true servants of Christ.

  2. Janine

    Answer: Yes, the virus is still transmittable; however if the person is recieving treatment for HIV then he or she is aware of the condition. It is the responsibility of the individual to make all parnters aware of the condition, and to use safe sex. There are laws in place that levy heavy penalties for knowingly transmitting the virus, and this in combination with education further reduces transmission. Te drugs themselves also make transmission less likely. Will it still occur? Yes. Will it occur at a rate comperable to transmission without treatment? No.

    As far as I know, the cocktail is still available.

  3. Charles B.

    Janine: That's what I figured also.

    It also mentioned on the video that AIDS can only be transmitted four ways; by sex, blood transfusion, I.V. drug use, or from mother to child. I am quite sure that I read about a dentist that gave the virus to at least 3 of his patients just from doing their dental work. I think the dangers of transmission are a bit underplayed in this documentary.

  4. Achems Razor

    Charles B.

    I heard about the dentist also.

    I believe that the dentist did it on purpose. Injected his patients
    with some of his blood in with the Novacaine.

  5. Charles B.

    Razor: That makes sense as most dentists use gloves when working on your teeth. Words cannot express how much I loath a person that would do such a hideous act. :-(

  6. Talia

    there should be a law in third world countries, stating that if a person is HIV positive, the Physician must let his patient and family know about the condition. In Domican Republic i know cases of Doctor's, that have been asked by family members to not reveal the condition to the infected person, with the excuse that he/she might commit suicide. Physicians there often follow family requests.

  7. KT

    The "triple cocktail" is a medicine not a vaxine. What does this mean? It doesn't prevent you to get infected. You can actually get infected by AIDS HIV multiple times even if you are already infected. What the medicine does is stop the growth of the Virus in numbers (which also means less destruction of the blood's cells the virus inhabits) so you can have an immune system but you remain a carrier.

    About the other medicine AZT it helps pregnant women NOT to transmit the virus AT ALL to their babies. This is not 100% working and the drug is indeed toxic to both mother and child. It is a mixed blessing. Facing the danger of an incurable disease though this choice becomes less terrible in the eyes of those poor people.

    Of course research on your own, don't take it from me.

  8. KT

    Btw it has been said that some people have an abnormal type of bone marrow cells that produce white cells with a protein that makes them immune to AIDS HIV. Which would mean some humans are naturally immune and safe.

    I read that a man was actually cured with a transplant of such abnormal marrow. This needs to be researched though as it can be a rumour.

  9. Courtney

    The dentist's name is David Acer, and it is still not known how he transmitted it. It's a strange case indeed.

  10. Cameron Rogers

    Just finished watching part two.

    Once again I've become convinced that Republicans and conservatives have no rational grounding in their motivation to block certain social issues. Jesse Helms' motion to ban education about AIDS, at a time when people with the disease were marginalized like witches, and because it was antagonistic to "christian, moral" ideology is a totally ungrounded and archaic notion that most likely caused the deaths of hundreds or thousands of those who didn't have to die. Reagan finally did say something about AIDS, but only after six years, and he only ended up giving one speech with regards to it. I realize that society has progressed socially since the mid 80's, but this stigmatization of the nature/education and funding of AIDS reminds me of the Dark Ages with restrictions on the studies of science.

    Separation of church and rational approach to education and treatment of disease is a must, and I'm glad that those "morally corrupt" individuals are allowed to receive treatment to try to extend their lives.

  11. Kim

    I took Dental assisting a few years ago and I watched a documentary on how there was a scandal with HIV being transmitted through going to the dentist. It was never 100% proven, but there was a theory that it was transmitted through high speed hand pieces aka the drills used to cut teeth and gums. Years ago it was not standard to have to sterilize hand pieces with autoclaves, so to save money since the sterilization process would wear down expensive hand pieces, many dentists would just sanitize them, which isn't the same thing and doesn't kill all bacteria and viruses in the equipment. Therefore, the HIV virus could be transmitted from patient to patient through unsterilized hand pieces since they were in contact with patient's blood.

    There was a huge investigation and even though this theory was never fully proven it is now regulated that all hand pieces and equipment be sterilized with an autoclave since that is the only safe way to ensure the prevention of any bacteria and viruses from being transmitted between patients, including HIV.

  12. nawa mubiana

    I find this documentary to be biased,political and lacking many scientific truths about HIV/AIDS.How could Robert Galo claim the discovery of a virus which he never discovered at all? And how could they give such a poor reason as to HIV originating from monkies in congo basin?And why is anyone with a divergent view about HIV silenced or looked at as enemy?As a scientist i'm compelled to wonder if the real truth is being told..

  13. Trip Nesbitt

    Janine and Charles B. NO, you are incorrect: the virus is NOT transmittable by people with consistently undetectable viral loads.
    Only if medicated HIV positive people on the drugs skip the medications or contract a complicating infection which causes a viral blip can they transmit the virus. These are VERY rare.
    Based on this well-proven fact, the state of California now tries to put everyone who contracts HIV on medication immediately -- to stop the spread. W.H.O. has been debating advising this, but its a matter of funding clinics in developing nations which would suddenly have their patient loads increase dramatically. So, what W.H.O. has done is raised it's guideline from 200 T-Cells to 350. I suspect it will incrementally increase till it gets to where California already is.
    All those laws you so piously refer to, by the way: Switzerland has openly insisted they be repealed as they are not based on science, and many other nations (Sweden, UK, Israel) are way ahead of the US in understanding that such laws do NOTHING but increase stigma -- which makes people less likely to get tested, which increases the spread.
    As for the infamous dentist, Dr. Acer: the AMA has studied this extensively and concluded that it was impossible for him to pass the virus to his patients accidentally -- it had to have been intentionally.
    I imagine he attended your church or one like it, or wherever it is people who believe anyone deserves to die of AIDS hangs out.

  14. Kerri Saylors-Higgins

    I spent the years 1985-1999 reporting positive hiv/aids cases (this disease should not be capitalized, it deserves no honor), to the CDC. I was also 20 years old when the first stories of a new lethal disease amongst gay men broke. I had a three year old son, and I am devastated to fess up that I thought, " well, one less fag to molest my son." Little did I know how many loved ones had sexual preferences that I was clueless about and how many adored ones I would lose to aids. I had my bigoted little face rubbed right into it at my work, social, personal, and sexual lives. As I contimued to report aids cases I became obsessed with it. My family no longer allows me to obsess/discuss and if I am reading outloud and my cats hear hiv/aids, they scatter and hide for hours. It took a while for me to hear the whisper in my head that this fatal disease does not make sense. None of what we were told at the beginning held up under scrutiny and independent research, and all the fancy footwork from the Kings horses and all the Kings men couldn't put Humpty together again. I challenge our government to explain the leaked defense dept's requests for millions to make a synthetic pathogen refractory to the human immune system and the roles of the special cancer virus program/ bioweapons labs of Ft Detrick, which coincendently jubilantly reported that this immune zapping virus was successfully created. Explain how within two years of the creation of this virus a hepatitis B vaccine trial was offered to the most promiscuous gay men that could be lassoed. Explain why within one to two years these gay guniea pigs were dropping like flies from the most nighmarish disease on earth. Explain the laying of blame at Africa when the first cases of aids were born in New York, LA and San Francisco. Explain the leaked Kissinger statements to congress that the population of this planet required culling of billions of people in any way at any cost. Explain the treatment of aids patients with aids causing drugs such as AZT and DDI. Explain the switcheroo of the primate origin of aids from green monkey to chimp. Tell the truth about the research on the human black genome and genetically engineered designer diseases. Explain the vaccine programs in this country, and lastly explain the vehement knee jerking shoot downs and info blackouts of any scientist or lay person with balls enough to question the status quo. Tell us and show us that the US did not unleash this pure evil on our fellow species members. By the way this video has been pulled.

  15. Kerri Saylors-Higgins

    And while I am at it, explain the blackout of ANY news related to current AIDS victims.

  16. troiboi65

    My name is Troy I was diagnosed hiv+ in 1989.I didn't do anything about it and in 1996 it had progressed to full blown AIDS with a t-4 count of zero.My mom took me to the UVA hospital and i was admitted immediately.I was put on the cocktail and started to improve immediately.They said i was probably infected in 1996.I'm 47 and my t-4 count is over 600.I read an article on here about the future of AIDS.China India and Russia will be the epicenter of the epidemic in the next quarter of the century.Honesty could stop this if people could come out and say they have it without being judged and afraid.People need to face the reality because it's only going to get worse over time.The article said AIDS will be this centuries number 1 infectious disease.

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