WGBH-TV producer Renata Simone has covered the story of AIDS since 1985. It was only fitting then that Ms. Simone, who works at the Boston PBS station, shepherded a six-year project that started in 1999 and chronicled the history of the global AIDS pandemic in “The Age of AIDS,” a four-hour report for PBS’s “Frontline” series.
The documentary ran in May 2006, timed to the 25th anniversary of the discovery of the disease. “We did 171 interviews in 19 countries. We interviewed Bill Clinton, [AIDS activist and rock singer] Bono, scientist Robert Gallo [and others],” Ms. Simone said.
The film tracked the spread of the disease and its political impact around the world. Ms. Simone learned while producing the “Frontline” documentary that there are three important lessons in the AIDS battle-prevention, positive leadership and reducing the stigma. “Positive leadership makes all the difference in the world. If the political leaders get behind prevention you’ll have a much lighter epidemic,” she said. “In South Africa if they’re in denial you’ll see the number of infections fly off the chart. In contrast, in places like Thailand and Uganda and even the United Kingdom where they got into a flurry of very intensive prevention programs among IV drug users, and Thailand and Uganda did condom distribution, you see tremendous impact there.”
She also emphasized that it’s critical for that leadership to do its part to reduce the stigma of AIDS so that people will get tested and get into treatment. “Prevention absolutely works, and it is cost effective,” she said.
According to the “Frontline” report, about 30 million people worldwide have died of AIDS and 40 million people worldwide are infected with HIV. In 2004 there were 4.9 million new infections and 3.1 million people died. “Frontline” also reported that over the next decade about 40 million more people will become infected.
During the 25 years Ms. Simone has spent tracking the disease, she produced the first national series on AIDS and quarterly reports with Peter Jennings for PBS and ABC.