‘Fire in the Blood’ – an Inspiration

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There are many barriers that the developing nations face while accessing vital medications. Despite the efforts of NGOs, governments and health professionals there are emerging problems which have no immediate solutions. One of the crucial issues is the fight against HIV/AIDS. Trade laws under the agreements of World Trade Organisation compounds the problem. WTO regulates international trade amongst its member nations. It has tremendous influence over international trade policy. Under the WTO the introduction of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) in 1994, the less developed countries face huge problem in getting medical needs. Under TRIPS it is obligatory for the member countries to accept the patent law of the Western countries. The Best of MIFF (Mumbai International Film Festival) which was jointly organised by the Films Division of India and Manipur Film Development Corporation in Imphal winded up with some of the best documentaries and short films. One documentary that truly addresses the issue of HIV/AIDS is ‘Fire in the Blood’, directed by Dylan Mohan Grey. Shot across four continents, the film depicts the mass devastation brought about in Africa, Asia and other parts of the global south owing to premeditated barrier of low-cost antiretroviral drugs used for treatment of HIV/AIDS from reaching people in these countries. This barrier was erected by Western pharmaceutical companies equipped with patent monopolies. ‘Fire in the Blood’ documents the battle against the monopolistic blockade, how it was fought and won. It is very rare for a documentary to feature some of the best known figures of the world from former US President Bill Clinton, intellectual property activist James Love, journalist Donald McNeil of the New York Times, HIV/AIDS treatment activist Zackie Ashmat, Nobel Prize winners Desmond Tutu and Joseph Stiglitz. No wonder, Australian journalist and documentary film maker, John Pilger wrote “Fire in the Blood is one of the most powerful, important and humane documentaries I have ever seen. It’s the story of ordinary people standing up to unaccountable power. The struggle to save millions from the ravages of untreated HIV is revealed as a struggle against the new lords of the world, transnational corporations, their greed and lies. Genuine hope is rare these days – you’ll find it in this film.” Besides the contemporariness of the subject that the film has dealt with, the documentary underscores the joint effort of activist, journalist, health workers, and policy experts in their coordinated fight against giant pharmaceutical companies of the Western countries. We should mention Indian scientist Yusuf Hamied, Chairman of Cipla; who supplied a combination of AIDS drugs to developing countries for less than one Dollar a day, perhaps the best – known advocate of affordable drugs. Activist Zackie Achmat, whose activism for access to essential medicine is well known, and journalist Donald McNeil who broke the story of Cipla’s groundbreaking offer to sell a combination of AIDS drugs for patient just below one Dollar a day on the front pages of the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune; their works are all put into a single strand to be narrated into a 75 minutes film. We should also mention Khundrakpam Pradipkumar, who also appeared in the film briefly, but specially because of his fight against HIV/AIDS, overcoming limitations to become a reputed body builder. The film is an inspiration in our struggle against HIV/AIDS. It certainly rekindles the hope that there are people who with conviction and a right approach can bring about a positive change. The picture of HIV/AIDS and its related works in Manipur is not in a good shape. Its nodal agencies are often in the news for wrong reasons. It would not be an exaggeration to point out that many individuals or group have profited largely in the name of fighting HIV/AIDS in the state of Manipur. The crime these people have committed is no less than the one committed by the giant pharmaceutical companies by depriving the right to life of so many people. At the same time, the media needs to walk extra mile to highlight the fraudulent practices in health sector, especially in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

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