Two Women, One Mission: Finding a Cure for AIDS

A nondiscriminatory disease that has affected many lives over many years, for 86 year-old research scientist, Mathilde Krim, the battle to find a cure for the deadly disease is an ongoing one. ​​In the film’s opening moments, Dame Elizabeth Taylor, one of the founding members of amfAR, who was very visible on the fight against AIDS prior to her death in 2011, addresses a congressional committee on the burgeoning AIDS crisis. The actress explains that she watched as, one by one, her friends grew ill after being infected by the HIV virus which causes AIDS by infecting and damaging part of the body’s defenses against infection, and she decided to use her fame in a constructive way and get people to do something about the disease.

Dr Mathilde Krim

Dr Mathilde Krim

Krim then recalls when AIDS first surfaced in 1981. A doctor friend of hers had told her about patients in his practice with fevers and similar symptoms which included cancers of the skin. These patients all happened to be gay. “It was a very serious problem as some of these people started dying. No one was certain what they were dealing with,” says Krim. As the epidemic grew, activists stepped in where the government failed, but finding a cure for the virus remained crucial. It’s then Krim started a research campaign. “I called as many people as I could in Washington looking for financial support, but got the usual stupid answer that no one could fund it.”

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor

She used her own funds to begin the initial research and was fortunate enough to receive the support and backing of Taylor, who became one of the founding members of the organization in 1985 after she lost her best friend and fellow actor Rock Hudson, who died of complications from AIDS.  Using her star power, she was able to draw attention to the organization.

Dr Krim _ Mr Leather

Dr Krim and Mr Leather

amfAR, (The American Foundation for AIDS Research) became the first national organization to mobilize the scientific community in the fight against AIDS and has succeeded in lobbying the government to fund AIDS research and HIV treatment education. Their research has been behind many of the most important advances in HIV treatment and prevention, but for the organization, the battle continues.

The early days of AIDS was a death sentence. There was a stigma attached to those who had the HIV virus and in many cases, sufferers were shunned by family and friends with some doctors refusing to treat cases. In 1995, AIDS was the leading cause of death for Americans aged 25 to 44. Fear of the disease has abated and the stigma attached to the disease has declined due to the research partially funded by amfAR which has led to lifesaving new drugs, but these drugs come with severe side effects and there is still no cure, which is what amfAR is battling to find. “We will find the cure and rewrite history,” says Krim.

Battle of amfAR Photo 2

According to amfAR, someone in the US is infected with the HIV virus every 10 minutes. An estimated 30 million people have died from AIDS since the epidemic began and over 34 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. Produced by two-time Academy Award-winner Rob Epstein and his longtime collaborator Jeffrey Friedman, it’s an insightful film on a worthwhile topic and paints a complete portrait of the anxiety and fear that erupted when AIDS first came to light in the early ‘80s.

“The Battle of amfAR will air on HBO in December 2nd at 9pm ET/PT coinciding with World AIDS Day.

by Samantha Ofole-Prince.  Photos courtesy of HBO

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