Innovation, resilience, gut-wrenching sorrow, and surprising splashes of color and laughter carried me away last night as I sat the Regent Square Theater and watched Blood Brother. The documentary followed the journey of a young man from Pittsburgh who, in the course of a walkabout through India, fell into the arms of the children in an AIDS orphanage and discovered authenticity and purpose for his life. As Rocky Bratt’s story unfolded on screen, I also fell into the arms of these incredible brave kids. My tears flowed as one girl died in the arms of her father as Rocky tried to ride the two on the back of his motorbike to the hospital. My heart ached as a little boy was painstakingly carried from death’s door by Rocky’s three week long ministrations to open sores, bleeding lips, and crusted closed eyes. I have seen before the ravages of AIDS on adult victims, but never watched it tear down the innocence of a child.
The film is testament to hope, and joy, and unselfish love. Steve Hoover, the director, beautifully captured the smiles, joys and belly laughs of this community. Rather than a desire to turn away, he created a film experience that helped me see through the sores and the suffering and to the life and joy of the children. The film has helped the orphanage partner with global healthcare leaders seeking to put a stop to this disease and enable those with the HIV virus to live healthy normal lives.
A candid Q & A was held in the theater after the film featuring Steve Hoover, the director, and Heather Bresch, the CEO of Mylan Pharmaceuticals. Mylan provides antiretroviral medications to 40% of HIV/AIDS infected people in the developing world. Heather shared that she has met Surya, the young boy saved in the film, sharing hugs and a chat as he sat on her lap for nearly an hour. Heather’s one son is close in age to Surya, an age guessed to be around 10. I thought of my own son at home, not much older and again my heart tugged in compassion.
No child grows out of their need for a family. – Steve Hoover
Innovation is key to HIV/AIDS, a crisis that remains a global health priority with 35 million people currently infected with HIV (70% of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa). Heather referred to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Medical researchers great impact on individual lives. A National Institutes of Health study demonstrated early treatment brought a 96% reduction in the transmission of the virus to others (on par with an immunization) and preserved the health and quality of life of those infected. The study has changed the way funding and treatment programs are deployed. Mylan has partnered with others to help drop the cost the ARV treatment from $10,000 per person per year in 2000, to $500 in 2007, to $140 today. They work to innovate small CD4 testing kits that make diagnosis easier and accessible.
Overall, the hopeful outweighed the heartbreaking last night, and the work continues.
Blood Brother has a limited run here in Pittsburgh, before continuing its tour around the nation. All filmmaker proceeds are donated to the children seen in the film and to HIV/AIDS initiatives.
Mylan offers internship programs to interested college and postgrad students.