State of Denial chronicles the AIDS epidemic in South Africa, which has 4.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS the largest such population in any one country worldwide.
Numerous interrelated factors fuel the epidemic. The government, and most notably President Thabo Mbeki, has refused to accept that HIV causes AIDS, and maintains that poverty is causing the deaths of so many people. When apartheid was overthrown in 1994, the government faced the huge task of providing for people's basic needs, such as clean drinking water, electricity and access to education and jobs. While the government has made huge strides in these areas, the AIDS crisis threatens to counteract these gains. Migrant labor is one of the primary factors responsible for the extensive spread of HIV in South Africa. Men with little prospect for work spend 11 months of the year away from their wives and families. One study suggests that one third of the workers in one mining town have unknowingly contracted the disease and brought it back to their families.
Anti Retroviral Drugs (ARVs) are nearly impossible to obtain in South Africa because of government policies, the costs associated with the medications, and World Trade Organization agreements with pharmaceutical companies that grant patent monopolies. Zackie Achmat, an HIV positive AIDS activist and co-founder of Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), refuses to take ARVs until they are available to everyone. He believes that the government's position stems from the fact that acceptance of ARVs would cause a demand for the drugs that it simply cannot afford.
In July 2000, the 13th Annual Conference on AIDS was held in South Africa the first time ever in a developing country, though 95% of HIV positive people live in the developing world. Thousands of delegates threatened to boycott the conference in protest of Mbeki's position on AIDS. In his opening speech he made no reference to ARVs becoming available, and continued to address issues of poverty.
Through personal portrayals of people living with AIDS, and those fighting to curb the epidemic, this documentary effectively addresses a global problem that can only perilously be ignored. According to one statistic, five to six million South Africans will die of AIDS by 2010 if treatment is not made universally available. While the film focuses on treatment that is severely needed, it makes little reference to prevention; facilitators may want to address that education about the disease is also a human rights issue. With adult supervision, this film is suitable for younger audiences of high school age.