Wed, Oct. 5 at 8pm – NOVA: Ending HIV in America
NOVA on WSIU TV is made possible by local program sponsors Thad Ellet Plumbing, Marion Subaru & SIU College of Engineering
ENDING HIV IN AMERICA, a one-hour special from NOVA explores the extraordinary scientific progress that has been made in the fight against HIV, highlights the activism and commitment of communities that are still hard hit by the virus, and reveals how close we may be getting to what once seemed unthinkable—the end of HIV in America. The film follows the unexpected twists and turns that HIV treatment has taken since scientists identified the virus almost 40 years ago, against the backdrop of two American cities—San Francisco, California and Birmingham, Alabama—that represent the real-world challenges of getting that treatment to the people who need it most.
Tune in Wed, Oct. 5 at 8pm on the WSIU stations: WSIU 8.1, WUSI 16.1, WSEC 14.1, WQEC 27.1 and WMEC 22.2 or access the WSIU local broadcast livestream online at pbs.org or via the PBS Video app. Watch with WSIU Passport.
About the program
What began as a mysterious and ferocious plague that frustrated scientists at every turn, led to a long—and global—scientific quest that produced a string of extraordinary discoveries. Yet to deliver those discoveries to the people most in need, equally innovative partnerships had to be created between the public health community and communities who were often neglected or discriminated against by health authorities. ENDING HIV IN AMERICA examines many important questions, including: How did scientists gain the upper hand on one of the most elusive and deadly pathogens ever known? Could innovative drugs and treatment regimens eventually bring new infections to zero? The U.S. government set a bold target in 2019: to cut new infections by 90% by the year 2030. But can we conquer the final hurdles in defeating the virus and address the deep-rooted challenges of accessibility and stigma that communities across the country face?
“HIV is a uniquely challenging virus to fight, and the scientific journey over the last four decades has been a dramatic roller-coaster filled with hope and frustration and some truly remarkable discoveries,” said NOVA Co-Executive Producer Julia Cort. “All leading to today, when public health experts say ending HIV transmission in America is within our grasp.”
Mutating faster than any known virus, HIV, which causes the disease known as AIDS, at first seemed invincible. Yet an unprecedented global scientific effort is gradually unraveling most of the virus’s secrets. The resulting breakthroughs have turned an HIV diagnosis, once a death sentence, into a chronic but manageable condition for most infected Americans. The use of antiviral therapy has proven more than 99% effective in preventing transmission, leading many experts to believe that it is possible to end the epidemic.
“Public awareness of the continuing havoc wreaked by HIV has declined over the years. This important film provides some welcome news and a timely examination of the current state of the AIDS epidemic and how we got to this point,” said NOVA Co-Executive Producer Chris Schmidt. “It also reveals how scientific advances in the battle against COVID-19 originated from pioneering research into HIV vaccines—including treatments like Remdesvir and Paxlovid—and how the many years of scientific research around HIV and AIDS have benefited us all in the long run.”
As with any disease, the final cases are the hardest to stamp out, but the so-called last mile looks different in different parts of the country. San Francisco—home of Ward 86, the country’s oldest HIV/AIDS clinic—vowed to be the first city to fully eliminate the virus, rolling out its plan in 2013. By focusing on its most vulnerable residents, the city managed to cut new infections by more than 60%, even as the COVID pandemic brought new challenges. The film introduces viewers to health workers who are bringing medical care to the streets and running clinics that deliver not just HIV care, but other services tailored to the city’s homeless and transgender communities. Viewers will also meet HIV-positive activists like Cecilia Chung, who have lived through the HIV/AIDS pandemic’s different eras over the last four decades.
In Birmingham, Alabama, the last mile feels a lot longer. For many residents the cost of the highly effective preventative treatment, known as PrEP, is prohibitive because the state doesn’t provide the same level of support as in San Francisco. The film follows a core group of staff at the 1917 Clinic, run by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, helping patients to navigate various challenges. Among this group are chaplain Chris Hamlin, formerly pastor at the city’s historic 16th Street Baptist Church, and Tommy Williams, who connects clients with the clinic’s services. Williams shares a bond with many patients—he too is HIV-positive—and his tireless efforts to combat the stigma surrounding HIV are a central element of the film.
With unforgettable portraits and interviews with pioneers of HIV science and community leadership—Drs. Michael Saag, Lawrence Corey, John Mascola, Monica Gandhi, Myron Cohen, Cecilia Cheung, and the Reverend Christopher Hamlin—ENDING HIV IN AMERICA is a story of both struggle and triumph, showing how the fight against HIV reshaped the world of science and medicine, as healthcare providers confront the challenge of getting treatments to the people who need them most.
“Tackling the HIV/AIDS pandemic has been one of the greatest scientific and societal challenges of the past four decades, and that effort contributed mightily to our preparation for COVID,” said Head of HHMI Tangled Bank Studios Sean B. Carroll. “Now we can see the light at the end of that long tunnel. We’re proud to help bring this important story to audiences and to bring hope to the communities most affected by this terrible disease.”
The Global Health Reporting Center, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, and NOVA/GBH, will lead an impact campaign tied to the film that will include additional HIV-related content, film screenings and panel discussions in key cities, and a program to get the film and associated educational materials to medical students nationwide.
“What both Covid and HIV teach us is that no virus can be conquered without both great science and great public health,” said Global Health Reporting Center Co-founder and President Janet Tobias. “In the fight against HIV-AIDS, there has been a groundbreaking collaboration between patients, activists, and scientists. It is because of extraordinary leadership by all of these groups, that it is now possible to imagine ending HIV in America.”