Film shows that having HIV in Africa is no longer a death sentence

November 22, 2013, University of East Anglia
Film shows that having HIV in Africa is no longer a death sentence
A still from the documentary The Mango Tree: Living with HIV in Uganda. Credit: UEA

A new documentary produced by the University of East Anglia reveals how the lives of people with HIV in Africa have been transformed by antiretroviral therapy (ART) and highlights the crucial need for continued funding of the lifesaving treatment.

The 30-minute film, developed in partnership with the Medical Research Council/Uganda Virus Research Institute (MRC/UVRI), is about the changing face of HIV in Uganda, a country where 1.4 million people - 7.3 per cent of the population - are living with the virus.

Narrated by Rachel Arinaitwe, news presenter for the Ugandan television channel NTV, The Mango Tree: Living with HIV in Uganda will be screened publicly for the first time on December 1, Worlds AIDS Day, and tells the story of four people's journey from sickness back to health. They were participants in a study carried out between 2011 and 2013 by Dr Steve Russell, from UEA's School of International Development, and Prof Janet Seeley, from the School of International Development and the MRC/UVRI Uganda Research Unit on AIDS. The project looked at people's management of HIV as a long term condition on ART, how they were coping with life, the factors that enabled them to adjust and make progress, and the challenges they faced.

It was not until 2004 that ART became more widely available in Uganda, due to lower prices and increased international funding. By 2012, about half of those needing the treatment were getting it. As a result, HIV has become a manageable chronic condition and is no longer a death sentence. People have recovered their health, can go back to work and care for their children. The words of one of the study participants even inspired the name of the documentary, when they said "I can plant a mango tree and eat its fruits, which was not possible before".

Earlier this year Dr Russell returned to the country, where Prof Seeley is based for much of her time, with the School of International Development's director of research communications David Girling. They worked with Ugandan film-maker Denis Namanya, and two of the original fieldworkers in the study, Stella Namukwaya and Richard Muhumuza, and in collaboration with Ugandan NGO The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO).

Dr Russell said: "ART has given people a new chance at life and hope for the future. Our film tells the story of how people found the courage to go for a test, the support they received from close family and professionals, their recovery and their chance for life again.

"Some people on ART say they have come back from the dead, from being bed-ridden at home to walking proudly in the street. This documentary aims to help people understand the transformative effects of ART for people living with HIV, and the crucial need for on-going funding of the treatment."

The Mango Tree: Living with HIV in Uganda is expected to be used by TASO to promote awareness about HIV and encourage people to get tested or start taking the drugs. The documentary will also be available to view on the School of International Development's YouTube channel and Dr Russell will be taking it into UK schools and presenting it to university students and at conferences.

The research project was conducted in Entebbe with the MRC/UVRI and funded through a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Medical Research Council (through the MRC/UVRI Unit). It collected detailed qualitative data from 38 participants on ART, and also surveyed 263 people on ART to collect quantitative data on their quality of life and mental health outcomes. These outcomes were compared with other people living in the community. The research built on work started in rural Uganda in 2005.

Explore further: Older children with HIV may need to start treatment sooner to normalize future CD4 count

Related Stories

Older children with HIV may need to start treatment sooner to normalize future CD4 count

October 29, 2013
Although younger children with HIV are at high risk of disease progression if not treated, new research published this week in PLOS Medicine indicates that they have good potential for achieving high CD4 counts (a measure ...

AIDS guidelines for children may not improve death rates but may improve treatment access

November 19, 2013
Recent changes to World Health Organization guidelines for starting anti-AIDS drugs (antiretroviral therapy—ART) in young children are unlikely to improve death rates but may increase the numbers of children receiving ART ...

Antiretroviral treatment for HIV reduces food insecurity

December 4, 2012
Can treatment with modern anti-HIV drugs help fight hunger for HIV-infected patients in Africa? Starting antiretroviral therapy for HIV reduces "food insecurity" among patients in Uganda, suggests a study published online ...

High HIV knowledge and risky sexual behavior not associated with HIV testing in young adolescents

November 21, 2013
Having high knowledge about HIV and engaging in risky sexual activity do not make high-school-aged teens more likely to get tested for HIV. Those are the findings of a new study by researchers at Montefiore Medical Center ...

Lifesaving HIV treatment could reach millions more people following landmark study

July 3, 2013
Millions more people could get access to life-saving HIV drug therapy, following a landmark study led by Australian researchers based at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

Primary care key to management of patients with HIV infection

November 14, 2013
The HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) has updated its HIV care guidelines to reflect the fact that people with HIV are now living normal life spans, and their physicians ...

Recommended for you

HIV-1 genetic diversity is higher in vaginal tract than in blood during early infection

January 18, 2018
A first-of-its-kind study has found that the genetic diversity of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is higher in the vaginal tract than in the blood stream during early infection. This finding, published in PLOS ...

War in Ukraine has escalated HIV spread in the country: study

January 15, 2018
Conflict in Ukraine has increased the risk of HIV outbreaks throughout the country as displaced HIV-infected people move from war-affected regions to areas with higher risk of transmission, according to analysis by scientists.

Researchers offer new model for uncovering true HIV mortality rates in Zambia

January 12, 2018
A new study that seeks to better ascertain HIV mortality rates in Zambia could provide a model for improved national and regional surveillance approaches, and ultimately, more effective HIV treatment strategies.

New drug capsule may allow weekly HIV treatment

January 9, 2018
Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women's Hospital have developed a capsule that can deliver a week's worth of HIV drugs in a single dose. This advance could make it much easier for patients to adhere to the strict schedule ...

New long-acting, less-toxic HIV drug suppresses virus in humanized mice

January 8, 2018
A team of Yale researchers tested a new chemical compound that suppresses HIV, protects immune cells, and remains effective for weeks with a single dose. In animal experiments, the compound proved to be a promising new candidate ...

Usage remains low for pill that can prevent HIV infection

January 8, 2018
From gritty neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles to clinics in Kenya and Brazil, health workers are trying to popularize a pill that has proven highly effective in preventing HIV but which—in their view—remains woefully ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.