When it comes to tackling COVID-19, has the world learned anything from the global HIV epidemic?
This exploration, by South African filmmaker Rehad Desai, unpicks connections between the two pandemic experiences, from a global south perspective.
At the centre is the story of the four decades-long (and still fruitless) search for an HIV antibody vaccine, aimed at stalling transmission of a virus that still afflicts millions of people. This HIV vaccine research, and its extensive clinical trial infrastructure in South Africa, was crucial for the rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccine trials there in 2020. Yet, while some of the world benefitted from this slipstreaming, South Africans and most developing countries dropped to the back of the queue when it came to actually being supplied with them.
The theme of inequality – between rich and poor people and nations – as well as resonant themes of blame, science denial and the critical role of dwindling public health systems, runs through both pandemic experiences.
This journey through recent health history includes insights into the evolution of pathogens and the social factors determining health. With contributions from international experts and local stakeholders, it asks us to consider how we, as a world, will face a future of more variants, new pathogens and future pandemics if we continue to put profit before people and the planet.
As Desai asks at the end of the film: Isn’t it time to get back to a world where health is a basic right and where the quest for profit does not lead us all further towards catastrophe?