The Age of Aids [home page]

In South Africa, Dr. Glenda Gray explains to Thokozila Sibisi why she is HIV positive.


join the discussion: What are your reactions to this film? What are your thoughts on why the world has failed to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS?


Personally, I was surprised by my reaction to The Age of AIDS. Nelson Mandela, despite his heroic fight against Apartheid, dropped the ball on HIV. Also, for the first time in a long time I was impressed by some of decisions made by President Bush's Administration. While cowboy infused rhetoric and go-it-alone attitudes do not work well for nation building, AIDS requires a leader with a swagger, someone unafraid to break precedents. President Bush (with a liberal helping Bono's focus and Dr. Ho's research-driven approaches) could be just that person. This is a critical time to help the President become that leader with votes in November and letters to representatives. Although a spiritual sense of obligation does not resonate with me personally, I continue to hope that if pointed in the right direction it can become a powerful force for good.

Mark West
San Francisco, CA


What a stellar production!! I thought I was very knowledgeable about the history of AIDS but I learned several new things from this outstanding program you have created. I hope it is submitted for an Emmy.

It is so tragic that there were so many missed opportunities for world leaders to make a difference and they didn't. It is especially tragic how politics in the US prevented an early and significant response. I know of so many who have died from this horrible disease and many others who have compromised lives because of it. It could have been different had there been good leadership.

Thank you again for this program.

Rusty Dodson
Denver, CO


Thank you for this amazing and excellent documentary on AIDS, this particular mirror of my human condition. Shocking, stunning, enlightening...

I was moved the most by watching Bono's action and his impact on the whole dealing with this pandemic. It only takes one honest and reasonable guy to turn around the politics of a whole nation. That is a miracle to me. All it took was applying the teachings of Jesus Christ as he gave them, not as we, in our fear-ridden defence of our own perception, claim them for our limited goals. Any moral judgement of behaviour in respect to AIDS becomes utterly ridiculous when I look at Matthew 5, 28, where I need to make the admission that it is my action of mind, my thoughts that matter. ...

Forgive us for we do not know what we do...

Alban Fenle
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin


Congratulations on an excellent, thoughtful and thought-provoking report. As a nurse, I vividly remember the first time I encountered an HIV positive patient about to give birth on the labour and delivery unit at the Houston, Tx, hospital where I then worked. Although I volunteered to look after her, the charge nurse insisted we draw straws- "to be fair". The nurse who got the short straw cried everytime she came out of the patient's room, not because she was sympathetic to this young woman's plight but because she was afraid she would contract HIV herself and leave her two children motherless!

It's a terrible shame that American policy ignores what really works- frank, explicit education. I firmly believe that health care workers should NEVER try to impose their personal opinions/beliefs on their patients. For the US government to try do so on a global scale is shameful and ignores reality. As patient advocates we must make sure that a patient knows all their options and has made an informed decision, then we must support that decision. American policy which which provides funding only for sexual abstinence or monogamous sexual relationships is backwards. We must decide whether this is a public health issue or not- if it is, we must do EVERYTHING possible to stop it. You can't say, "Yes, it's a public health issue but we don't want to encourage sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, IV drug use, etc. by frankly educating people." If HIV were spread by sneezing, we'd have this under control by now. We must separate the disease from the behaviours if we want to save lives.

Penny Summers
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada


Oral vaccine ("The River") thesis left out - why?

Why was Ed Hooper's thesis on the oral polio vaccine origin of AIDS left out of the AIDS program?

The science community is in complete denial about the origins of HIV/AIDS (I am a scientist), so you cannot depend on the editorials in Nature and Science.

However, if you read Hooper's material ( or his book, "The River"), especially his recent rebuttals to Beatrice Hahn's "Bushmeat Origins" theory, you have to take it seriously. Hooper effectively rebuts all of her theses.

Don Lotter
El Centro, CA


I spent several years working as a nurse in HIV clinical research while pursuing a PhD in epidemiology. I appreciate your program and acknowledge that I have no international experience. That said, as a dedicated public health professional I feel that you failed to criticize HIV exceptionalism where such criticism is due. I have also worked with TB in Latino communities. I am sure that many victims of the US zeal for TB control would have appreciated treatment comparable to that received by the gay, HIV affected community. I hope that both TB and HIV control can seek a happy medium that puts public health concerns first. HIV is an infectious disease that is passed from person to person and traditional infectious disease control measures have been taken off the table by over zealous protectors of a powerful consituency.

Rachel Enriquez
Nashville, TN


Dear Frontline.

Between 1987 and 1990 I was the producer on a dedicated team of amazing people who helped develop an AIDS awareness and safe-sex video for Deaf people. It was an experience that encompassed all aspects of the social fabric of the time. Afterward it inspired me to teach and eventually return to university and study human behaviour.

As I watched the first episode on-line this afternoon, I re-lived the intellectual and emotional drive of that era ... and was shredded in the process. I sit here in front of this screen shattered, having re-run the rollercoaster without end that was AIDS activism in the 1980's.

As I watched the timeline unfold my heart raced as I tried to stay calm. The big slap was the Helms amendment, and the final blow was the Reagan speech. I remember those speeches and the reaction of those around me when we first saw them. I was once again overcome by rage and anguish.

I now sit here debating whether or not to go into my mindless grunt job tomorrow. I think it is time to go back and engage something that meant as much to me as those three intense years and put 14 years of advanced education to use for something bigger than all of us.

Thank you for re-awakening me.

Daryl Samotowka
Alberta, Canada


Bravo Frontline! Thank you for such an objective and detailed analysis on one of the worst pandemics to hit mankind. Now if we can convince the legislators of New Jersey and Delaware (the last remaining states to outlaw needle exchanges) to view this documentary, then, perhaps, we can eradicate the ignorance and cultural barriers that prevent us from dealing with the spread of this terrible disease.

As a conservative Republican, I have little tolerance for illegal drug sellers or drug abuse. However, we need to deal with the fact that drug abuse is a health problem that requires a different set of tactics (counseling, strict laws, aggressive policing, etc..) than hiding the tools of the trade. The reality is that the lifestyle of the drug abuser allows for HIV to continue to spread. Our politicians in New Jersey need to realize that a change of tactics is warranted here. In my opinion, passing new legislation that addresses needle exchanges should play a role in defining the effectiveness of this democratic legislator and its governor. Failure to succeed here is something that New Jersey citizens should take into consideration when going to the polls next week and in November.

Clayton Town
Morristown, NJ


As a student and tenager I understand the reason for which we should be educated on this subject. Many teens my age don't care to shift through channels and find something that will better us for tommorrow, we would rather stop and watch MTV, HBO, or even BET. But there are some like me who like to learn a little bit more and get outside of the walls of protection against knowlege that have been put up in font of us.

That is why I would like to congraulate all of you on your hard work and ask that you try to educate our schools about this because even though many don't say it, the American government does not tell us everything that it does including a fact I learned form watching your documentary is America not giving condoms to the people of Africa. I find it to be very ludicrous by there part because it is the best method of protection against the AIDS virus. Thank you very much on being my mirror to what is really happening in the world and keep up the good work.

P.S.- love the new website.

Stephanie Aponte
Brooklyn, New York


Another typically excellent FRONTLINE program. While you did cover the OPV/AIDS origin theory on the website, I don't believe it was mentioned in the program, and Dr. Shaw's statement essentially proclaimed the 'bushmeat' theory as the definitive origin. Even though neither theory may eventually be proved or disproved, there remain many implausibilities with the 'bushmeat' scenario.

Despite the fact that many in the world of science and medicine prefer to distance themselves from and/or try to discredit such a contoversial yet important theory as OPV/AIDS and its implications, it deserves just as much attention in any truly comprehensive discussion of the origin of HIV. The lessons learned from such a major instance of scientific misadventure could only be of benefit to the fight against or prevention of HIV or other yet to be discovered deadly viruses.

John Howick
Knoxville, TN


This FRONTLINE series should be required viewing for anyone working with patients or invested in health research.

Political, social, and economic forces have a tremendous influence on biomedicine and this series covered the most glaring of examples--the HIV epidemic. Health professionals and scientists need to see that their efforts will have the most impact when in dialogue with the cultural forces that facilitate or impede.

Our media needs to provide us a more global perspective on health and disease, and we need to be in constant dialogue regarding our healthcare and research values, locally and globally. We need to hear these stories continually and develop strategies together. As a graduate student in medicine and immunology, I thank you for such a telling and honest account of the history and present status of the global AIDS epidemic. I look forward to your future work.

Rekha Rapaka
Pittsburgh, PA


As an African American American heterosexual woman involved in the AIDS Epidemic since 1989, I was so excited about the two-part program, The Age of AIDS.

While, I have seen other programs that outline the history, timelines, outcomes and successes, this was a program that I was totally engaged in. I would suggest that the caliber of interviewees made the program all that more relevant. I plan on recommending this program to my colleagues world wide. Thanks.

Oakland, CA


I would like to thank you for featuring such an amazing documentary on the history of AIDS. My mother and I watched the full 4-hour documentary and we both felt a deep compassion and empathy for the victims suffering across the globe. We were inspired by the doctors, victims, and advocates featured in this film to become more active in education and awareness for own family and to learn how we can help in the global efforts to stop the spread. I was particularly inspired and moved by the people of Uganda. Now more than ever, I believe that it only takes one person, one heart, one community to make a difference.

Thank you for inspiring me.

Kei Nakakoji
Houston, TX


Why can't a Christian or other religious organization offer clean needles and free condoms through some outlet in order to make sure that as long as people are engaging in dangerous behavior they have no excuse not to do so as safely as possible? Would this be against Christ? Certainly not! Christ never condoned the behavior of sinners, but he did not boycott them as persons either. He insists that love is our modus operandi. Perhaps if a young person were shooting up and realized the needle he or she used was paid for by a group that was desperately concerned for the health and safety of people like them, it might make a bigger difference in that persons life than all the political angling and religious rhetoric of the past 20 years has been able to accomplish!Peace

Brian Hill
Vancouver, Washington


. I was not cognizant at how ignorant I was concerning AIDS until I watched the program. The show did an excellent job focusing not just on the illness itself, but also on social conscience, money, science, countries, governments, leaders as well as different races fighting together for humanity. I was especially amazed at how Bono was able to change Senator Jesse Alexander Helms, Jr.'s mind.

It was very chilling and sad to see how politicians use human suffering as a business and also, how the USA attaches a pre requisition on every dollar it donates to the developing countries, it is almost shameful. I was dumbfounded by the president of South Africa, He could not differentiate the earth from the sky. I think he personally made more damages to those poor brothers and sisters of South Africa than any white man did.

Anyway, Thank you for the fantastic job presenting one of the most important issues of our time.


Solomon K.
Hawthorne, California


First, I want to commend Frontline for an excellent production. I remember vividly the entire history of this plague and many people affected by it, and this was a wonderful overview of the history, the issues and its impact.

Second, I work in the substance abuse field and work with an organization which does HIV testing and education and am familiar with many behaviors which put individuals at risk of infection as one person mentioned, and I will continue to try and help people change risk behaviors.

However, it is not just babies and hemophiliacs who are innocent victims as one person stated. We are increasingly aware that large numbers are infected by spouses or partners within committed, monogamous (and legal/moral) relationships and there are many wives and girlfriends (and babies) or conversely, husbands and boyfriends who have been infected and have done nothing wrong. In any case, no one "deserves" it and everyone deserves compassion and access to treatment.

Thirdly, the reluctance to embrace the "sinners" is completely counter-productive as we increase the numbers of untreated within the population at large and ultimately increase the spread of the disease.

Atlanta, Georgia


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posted may 30, 2006

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