Fire in the Blood (India, 2012) directed by Dylan Mohan Gray

In the mid 1990’s a medical approach recommended the use of antiretroviral drugs, commonly known as ARV, for the treatment of AIDS patients. This medical breakthrough would mean the end of 25 million of people in Africa dying from the virus but instead what followed was a decisive human crisis as generic drugs and the lives of millions are left in the mercy of AIDS profiteers. We learn from “Fire in the Blood”, Dylan Mohan Gray’s latest documentary which had its world premier at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest, that AZT, the first drug against AIDS, was invented in 1963. Gray’s film is above all an educational documentary that also examines the brave battle of key players, including the government of India, to end the monopoly of almost 50 years led by the powerful global drug industry and to stop US firms from blocking cheap AIDS drugs.

Today, Europe is pushing India in patent laws for supplying medicines to the world and providing health care at the level of cost people can afford. Despite the 84% of virus treatment research funded by public resources, ARVs treatment was received only by 1% in Africa. But thanks to Ugandan Dr Mugyenyi’s crusade for cheaper AIDS drugs, Lisa’s life is saved: a girl who shortly after she was born, ten years ago, was at first diagnosed with mengitis, then pneumonia but it was AIDS.
“Fire in the Blood” screened last night at Curzon with a post-screening discussion joined by the director Dylan Mohan Gray, author of Bad Science and Guardian journalist Dr Ben Goldacre and Cipla chairman Dr Yusuf Hamied.

Guest Editor|Georgia Korossi – writer & curator based in London & Athens

Georgia Korossi talked (on behalf of REVma -/+) with Dylan Mohan Gray about his work:

REVma -/+: When did you start this project and what was the inspiration behind it?
D.M.G.: The genesis of the project goes back to 2004, when I was working on a film in Sri Lanka and happened to read an article about Yusuf Hamied, an Indian generic drugmaker who was battling to get lower-cost AIDS drugs into developing countries. I was fascinated by the story, and by a quirk of fate it turned out that my friend, who later became my partner, is related to Dr Hamied, so I was able to meet him in Mumbai some months later, and eventually through him met several other people who would later become key contributors to the film.

REVma -/+: How long did it take you to complete it and what were the hardest challenges accessing information and getting to speak to people you needed to interview including Bill Clinton?
D.M.G.: The original firm decision to do the film was taken in June 2007. The biggest challenge was certainly taking a very complex story and subject with a lot of strands, and trying to distil it down into something that could be both comprehensible and compelling for general audiences. When I did my initial research for the film I made a list of people I really wanted to do on-camera interviews with for the film. The most difficult person (by far) on the list to get time with was Bill Clinton. It took a year and a half to get the interview, but finally it came through, which of course I was extremely pleased about.

REVma -/+: What is the best way the world can acknowledge the cold facts about life-saving drugs examined in your film?
D.M.G.: The levels of popular understanding about how basic research into life-saving drugs, almost all of which is publicly-funded, comes to be controlled by a handful of giant corporations, which then use government-granted monopoly power to price the resulting medicine far out of reach to all but the most privileged and affluent sliver of the world’s population, are exceptionally low. I certainly think this film has the potential to be a very important conversation-starter. At the moment there is essentially no conversation, despite the fact that up to a third of all deaths worldwide in any given year are attributable to this systemic problem.

REVma -/+: What would you say about these people who have fought for moral rights in the global drug industry and the people who are fighting the disease like Zackie Achmat?
D.M.G.: They are real heroes to me, and I hope their work gets more recognition because of this film. I have always felt that if people like Dr Hamied and Zackie Achmat were German or Swiss, instead of Indian and South African, everyone in the world would know their names.