Millennium Development Goal 6 has two objectives: achieve universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment by 2010 for those who need it, and halt the spread of HIV by 2015. Globally, about 3% of people between the ages of 15 and 49 are living with HIV/AIDS. However, in Southern Africa, 24% of people are living with HIV/AIDS . The good news is that according to a report released by UNAIDS last week, in African countries with the largest epidemics—Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe—there has been a 25% drop in new infections. Similarly, access to treatment has increased in regions hardest hit by HIV/AIDS, with 5.2 million people worldwide on HIV treatment – but we have not yet attained universal access.
In sheer numbers, not percent of population, more people are living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa than in any other nation. The South African government launched a large scale HIV counseling and testing campaign this year, which is a step forward. However, HIV/AIDS continues to take a toll, particularly on women, who remain vulnerable to HIV because of discrimination, sexual coercion, and violence.
The 2004 film Yesterday features the struggle of a rural South African woman named Yesterday, who after developing a chronic cough, visits a clinic and finds out she is HIV positive.
Yesterday must walk several hours to reach the closest clinic, which is only open on Tuesdays. On her first two attempts, she is sent home because there are too many people already waiting. The only doctor who works at the clinic clearly means well and is concerned about Yesterday – at one point in the film, we see tears in her eyes when Yesterday mentions her young daughter – but her practices are somewhat questionable. The doctor tests Yesterday for HIV without explaining what’s happening, and tosses aside the informed consent form when Yesterday says she cannot read or write. However, once diagnosed, Yesterday has access to medication, despite the impoverished state she is living in. Yesterday’s trying experience with the clinic is certainly an experience that rings true for many people around the world as they attempt to access services, particular sexual and reproductive health services
The film also explores how gender inequality makes women vulnerable to HIV infection, and how it contributes to the stigma and blame that positive women often face. There is no question that Yesterday’s husband John, a mine worker who migrates to the city of Johannesburg for several months at a time, is the person who gave her HIV. When she travels to the city to confront him, he gets furious and beats her. But later when John returns home, too sick to stand, Yesterday dutifully takes care of him and even builds him a remote hut once the stigma and harassment in their tiny village becomes too much to bear.
Yesterday illustrates the complexities of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in an emotionally compelling way, and shows us the complex and very human issues that are tied to the goals of improving statistics for access to medication and reducing infection.