It was much too hot to walk this afternoon so I went to see Straight Outta Compton at the cinema. When I arrived, the cinema was half full, virtually all young Swazis who were busy WhatsApping and scoffing pop corn.
Many of the audience came in late, some fifteen minutes after the film had started. People kept leaving the screening in order to get more drinks and snacks. During the “boring bits” where the plot was being developed, smart phones lit up across the cinema, as the audience checked for messages on their Facebook pages. It wasn’t like this when I last sat in the Odeon in Leicester.
At the end of the film, Eric “Eazy-E” is in hospital, suffering from a chest infection. The specialist doctor comes into his room and tells him he has HIV. He says, “The normal CD4 count is 500-1500; your count is 11.”
At this, a section of the cinema audience scornfully jeered. I don’t think this was a reaction to the flawed genius getting his comeuppance. I genuinely felt that the young people in the audience were relating to Eric’s predicament. In 1993, being told you had a CD4 count of 11 was tantamount to a death sentence. In 2015, it just means that you are late starting the anti-retroviral medication which will provide your rescue. Eric was just unlucky to have contracted HIV ten years too soon.
Before anti-retroviral medication became widely available in Swaziland, it is estimated that HIV/AIDS was responsible for the population falling from 1.4 to 1.0 million. Nowadays more and more people living with HIV are taking medication which is keeping them alive. We start at least a hundred patients on HIV medication every month at the clinic.
Swazis know that effective medication is freely available. If you take the drugs correctly, your immune system will recover and the virus will be suppressed, you are going to live. Unlike Eric “Eazy-E”.