AHF held a panel discussion and screening of The People’s Hope, a documentary about the establishment of AHF’s Ithembalabantu Clinic in South Africa, at the Arclight Hollywood Theater in Los Angeles on May 17th.
The documentary chronicles AHF’s battles with the South African government and pharmaceutical companies in its campaign to provide affordable medicine for HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa.
On May 17th in Los Angeles, AHF debuted The People’s Hope, a powerful new documentary on AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s 15 years of saving lives in South Africa. The documentary relates the story of the Ithembalabantu Clinic in KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, AHF’s first clinic outside the United States. Guests—including AHF staff, mobilizers, and clients—enjoyed a brief reception prior to the screening, which was followed by an interactive panel discussion with the filmmakers and clinic founders.
The film explores the challenges faced by the clinic’s founders in providing medication to thousands of South Africans affected by HIV/AIDS when no treatment options were available in the country. Following the 2000 bi-annual International AIDS Conference in Durban, activists approached AHF President Michael Weinstein, urging his organization to address the widespread HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa. At the time, the South African government withheld lifesaving antiretroviral (ARV) drugs from its people due to an outspoken denial of HIV/AIDS.
“When we went to the organizations that were treating people with AIDS, there was a sense of hopelessness because in the US we already had the treatment revolution,” said Weinstein. “It was very sad, and it made me angry because the government had essentially abandoned millions of people in South Africa.”
To begin attending to South Africa’s neglected HIV population, AHF converted an abandoned office into a clinic for 100 patients living with HIV and hired three people to run it. Obtaining affordable HIV medicine involved numerous battles with pharmaceutical companies as well as South Africa’s government. Despite the challenges, AHF opened its Ithembalantu Clinic (the Zulu word for “People’s Hope”) in Umlazi, Durban in 2001. For many years, AHF was one of only three organizations offering ARV drugs in KwaZulu-Natal.
One of Ithembalabantu’s first patients, Jenny Boyce, recalled the skepticism surrounding ARVs at the time: “For a lot of us there was uncertainty. Medication wasn’t provided in the country, and there was a lot of talk about it being toxic and more detrimental than the disease. So we were coming to the clinic because [we] wanted to live.”
Ithembalabantu has since grown into a proud institution, recognized far beyond the township of Umlazi where it is located. Today, the clinic serves over 15,000 patients—including children born with HIV—who form a part of the 100,000 patients that AHF now treats in its 57 clinic sites throughout South Africa.
South Africa has also made commendable progress in addressing the AIDS epidemic. In 2010, South African President Jacob Zuma led a national effort to expand HIV testing and antiretroviral treatment. South Africa now has the largest ARV treatment program in the world, with over 3 million people on treatment and 10 million tested for HIV every year. However, AHF believes more still needs to be done to end HIV/AIDS in 2030.
“We appreciate that the government wants to work with us, and has partnered with us,” said Terri Ford, Chief of Global Advocacy and Policy at AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “The South African government has stepped up more than any other government in the world. We want to continue our partnership so that we can stop HIV in South Africa, and the way to do that is to get as many people tested and on treatment.”