The Political Implications of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic in And The Band Played On

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Introduction

Politics, people and the AIDs epidemic is the major theme in the 1993 film ‘And the Band Played On’ directed by Roger Spottiswoode. This film is set in the early 1980’s with an epidemiologist by the name Don Francis becoming growingly aware of the increasing number of deaths from an unexplained sources among gay men in Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco. This prompted an in-depth investigation of the possible causes and reasons for the outbreak. With little to no governmental funding, political support or updated equipment Francis reached out for assistance. During the course of pursuing his theory Francis that AIDS is caused by a sexually transmitted virus on the exemplary of feline leukaemia, he finds his efforts are resisted by the Centre of Disease Control, which opposes the theory to prove that the disease is transmitted through blood, and competing French and American scientists, chiefly Dr. Robert Gallo. These medical researchers quarrel about who should obtain recognition for discovering the virus as the deaths from the disease increase significantly.

Much of what shapes national and global responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic is shaped by political factors, however there has been little dissection of the political dynamics and motivations (Rau & Collins, 2005). Likened to the film The Bahamas is no different to this statement it’s political responses to HIV/AIDs pandemic is very limited as well. One reason for this is the primary focus of HIV/AIDs in The Bahamas has been on inter-personal, service delivery and already marginalized groups. Social changes that have magnified the spread and impacts of HIV/AIDS as well as the socioeconomic and political changes to control the epidemic are addressed more than research in this field. This analysis will answer questions in a review of the movie “And the Band Played On” and its connection to Bahamian response to the HIV and AIDs pandemic. See Appendix for questions being answered.

Many of the researchers’ and doctors in the film “And the Band Played On” played a significant role in the progression of the spread of HIV/AIDs due their poor response. This poor response time was due to the fact that many of these researchers and doctors had values, special interests and stereotypes that played a major effect on the development of policy and resources available to deal with the spread of AIDs. For example, because the disease was viewed as a “gay cancer” or “gay plague” among the homosexual community many policy makers did not acknowledge it. It was not until the disease spread to the heterosexual community, the American government and congress allowed for funds and research to be conducted. Like the film in The Bahamas persons look at HIV as a condemnation for homosexuals, persons living promiscuous lifestyles or Haitian immigrants. This can be noted as the Bahamian government did not look closely into the HIV/AIDs pandemic until ten years after its first diagnosis in the early 1980’s, this was mainly due to the fact that persons who contracted the disease were marginalized persons such as homosexuals or immigrants so much concern was not given (Craton & Saunders, 2000). However, like the film it was not until heterosexuals and pregnant women contracted the disease policies were made and changed to deal with the spread of AIDs. Many of these policy makers were of Christian value system and stereotyped persons living with HIV/AIDs as “gays”. While special interest groups such as the lesbian, gay and bisexual community used the plight of HIV/AIDs in the film to lobby for anti-discriminatory laws and status quo (Cigler, Loomis, & Nownes, 2016). Due to the values, special interest group and stereotypes development of HIV/AIDs policies and resources were delayed.

“Common sense however, rarely carried much weight in the regard to AIDs policy” refers to the idea that policy makers were more concerned about their own values, beliefs, stereotypes and gains as oppose to making provisions to help those ill and dying from HIVAIDs. Merriam-Webster defines the phrase ‘common sense’ refers to a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly all people without any need for debate. So when the speaker said the above mentioned line, he may have been referring to the idea that perceived judgement was not evident throughout the formation of the AIDs policy because, the policy would help thousands of people infected and protect others from being infected. But the policy was delayed. The implications for the AIDs policy was.

A study published in the American Journal of Medicine in 1984 traced many early HIV infections to an HIV/AIDs infected gay male flight attendant named Geatan Dugas. Dugas, should have been made accountable for his actions of promiscuity and nonchalant virus transmission. One way he could have been accountable would be taking part in a mandatory HIV/AIDs study where would have to comply with biological and sociological study. This would help to further investigation in the root of the infection. Some an ethical issue that arise by his behaviour are the wrongness of knowingly transmitting a disease. A legal issue that arise by Dugas’ behaviour is presented in the fact that he knowingly engaged in sex with other males while infected with HIV without informing the other person. The Centre for Disease Control (2016) mentions HIV Specific Laws that govern the action of persons living with the disease such as the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDs Resources Emergency (CARE) Act. Which funds AIDs treatment and care while requiring states to establish criminal laws adequate to prosecute any HIV infected individuals who knowingly exposed uninfected persons to HIV (Public Law 1990).

The government’s response to the HIV/AIDs epidemic during the early 1980’s were slow-moving. Had they known what they know now the transmission of HIV could have been less aggressive. Some actions the government would have taken were testing all blood transfusion. During the early period of AIDs discovery many persons who received blood transfusion were later diagnosed with HIV/AIDs. Promoting safe sex practices such as proper condom use and abstinence is another way government of that day could have help prevent the transmission of HIV. While promoting safe sex practices government could have dismantled stereotypes of the disease such as the label of “gay plague” etc. educating the wider public about the cause, transmission and treatment of AIDs is another initiative the government could have established if they had known what they know now about the disease. Drug users like medical professionals would have been educated on the importance of not sharing needles or sterile needle use. One way to implement most of the above mentioned initiatives greater funding would be needed to establish these initiatives.

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The events detailed in the film serves as a prototype for enlightening the lives of person’s living with HIV, primarily by drawing attention to the many faults made during the early period the AIDs pandemic. The film clearly reveals how holistic support politically, socially and economically is a major requirement for managing an epidemic. Stereotypes, lack of adequate funding, stigmas and knowingly exposing unaffected persons to the virus by infected persons are all challenges recognized in the film that are challenges social works face today. Some prominent challenges that effect social workers in healthcare setting are economics of care and continuous stereotyping (Poindexter, 2010). Marginalized groups such as homosexual men and migrants face stereotyping through stigma and discrimination leading to health disparities such as antiretroviral drugs (Stirrat & Gordon, 2005).

Counteracting, the above mentioned challenges require a myriad of initiatives by social workers and policy makers (government). The social worker gains skills needed to help improve service delivery. These skills include adherence counselling for treatment and emotional support for infected persons, empathy with infected persons and knowledge of the disease or condition affecting the population served as well as educating the masses about the facts of HIV would be help social workers with the vexing challenges (Poindexter, 2010). Risk reduction counselling (assessing an individual’s risk of engaging in unhealthy behaviours that may affect him/herself) and assessing barriers to that disrupt accessing care of persons living with HIV are additional skills social workers can apply to help the effect of HIV. As a healthcare provider I recognize that HIV/AIDS is not a life sentence and those living with HIV/AIDS are human beings with feelings and should be treated as such. I vow to maintain a non-judgemental, non-discrimination and non-prejudice stance when caring for person’s living with HIV/AIDS. This stance on HIV/AIDS is as follows:

  • Non-Discrimination, I will not discriminate against persons living with HIV or AIDS
  • Confidentiality, I will protect and maintain confidentiality of those seeking healthcare
  • Inform, I will inform persons living with HIV or AIDs with sensitive accurate and up to date information on risk reduction in his/her life
  • Awareness, I will assist in raising HIV/AIDS awareness programmes
  • Access to Treatment and Care, I will help those who test positive to HIV to obtain necessary treatment and care and referral to relevant agency to ensure this

There are many ways to implement the policy to advocate and strengthen HIV/AIDS strategies in The Bahamas. Two ways to advocate the policy in The Bahamas healthcare system is through updated training and workshops for persons in the helping profession; lobby rights for greater equality among persons living with HIV/AIDS.

Firstly, training and workshops provides an effective ground for information and awareness of HIV policy. Not only will professionals be exposed to updated relevant information on the topic of HIV and AIDs but they will gain knowledgeable information to help within their field. One important reason for this is the fact that HIV and AIDS is an evolving disorder, treatment, development and management of the disease is ever changing (Poindexter, 2010). So persons working along with infected persons should evolve educationally to better assist clients biologically and emotionally. In addition, professionally should be exposed to reinforced guidelines and policy analysis on caring for persons living with HIV/AIDS and mandatory annual workshops will help. Various Bahamian agencies should take part in this initiative to advocate the HIV policy: all healthcare workers, social workers, support staff and councillors/therapist.

Another way the policy can be advocated in The Bahamas is through lobbying the rights of persons living with HIV/AIDS. At present there are no concrete laws in the Bahamian constitution that protect person’s living with HIV/AIDs. The only act that mentions AIDS is The Bahamas’ Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS (Bahamas Employment Act, 2006). Support groups on social media, non-violent protest and letters to all ministers in the House of Assembly could avenues used to get the government assistance in creating laws that protect persons living with HIV/AIDS from discrimination. In addition, these outlets can also be used to request government increase funding for avenues of research, HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention and strengthening privacy measures for persons requesting testing or treatment for HIV/AIDS.

Conclusion

The frame of the global management of HIV/AIDS is shaped by political stance. One major reason for this is government provides the laws that govern what we can and cannot do as well as provide funding for the HIV/AIDS research. It is no surprise that the political arena played a major effect in the movement of HIV/AIDS discovery and management in the 1993 film “And the Band Played On” directed Rodger Spottiswoode audiences see first-hand how the AIDS pandemic started and progressed. The film provides a platform for the realistic challenges many face at the start of this pandemic and how slow responses policy makers returned unfavourable results. Despite, the not so good start on the AIDS pandemic by researchers, scientist and government the disease management as evolved into a progressing study of ongoing treatment, diagnosis, prognosis and platform for persons living with the disease.

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