AIDS: Living in the Shadows


AIDS: Living in the Shadows
Senior Executive Producer: Beth Mendelson; Host: Musician Elton John
Voice of America (VOA)

Reviewed by Sally Hessney


It is hard to avoid hyperbole when talking about the tremendous strides made in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. It is equally difficult to tamp down the upsurge of hope one feels at the prospect of a medical breakthrough in AIDS research leading to a cure. Notwithstanding these auspicious developments, a Voice of America documentary titled AIDS: Living in the Shadows, which premiered at the XX International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, illustrates that the stigma associated with the disease is one of the biggest impediments to bringing about an end to the global AIDS pandemic. Shame keeps people from getting tested and from seeking antiretroviral therapy. It stands in the way of safe-sex practices and the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. It prevents people from receiving the counseling, care, and support they need.

Hosted by musician and AIDS activist Elton John, the documentary presents the powerful stories of individuals from around the world. The people in the documentary face abuse, humiliation, and ostracism as a result of testing positive for HIV. They are the victims of discrimination and hate crimes. A young Haitian woman named Venise Louis recounts how she ended up in an orphanage after being shunned by her family. Uch Navy, a Cambodian woman who contracted HIV from her late husband, talks about resisting the urge to commit suicide. Nigerian activist Ifeanyi Orazulike runs the risk of imprisonment for delivering health information to sexual minorities. The documentary explains how American evangelicals have spread hatred, fear, and disinformation in sub-Saharan Africa, promoting the criminalization of homosexuality in countries where anti-gay legislation makes it difficult for vulnerable people to access treatment for fear of persecution. All of the individuals in the documentary persevere in spite of the personal and political obstacles they face. Most of them are not only surviving, they’re thriving—serving as activists, advocates, role models, and mentors in their communities. They make it abundantly clear that the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS undercuts all of the recent advances made in medical science and must be eradicated.

AIDS: Living in the Shadows can be viewed at the Voice of America (VOA) website (

Sally Hessney is an editor at a television listings company in Queensbury, NY.