White Pine Pictures presents

Tšepong – A Clinic Called Hope
Directed by Patrick Reed – Produced by Peter Raymont

Wednesday November 9th 2005 @ 8pm on CBC’s The Nature of Things

“Behind this incredible obsession with abstractions and statistics there are these individual human predicaments. It’s as if the world and its negotiations just can’t focus on the human reality. The world is watching, but the world isn’t listening.”
-Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa

White Pine Pictures presents a one-hour documentary that captures the compelling and transformative experience of a Canadian medical team who travel to the small southern African country Lesotho, spear-heading an innovative initiative to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Putting the pandemic in a global perspective:
3000 people died in the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster and on that same day in Africa,
6500 people died of AIDS- just like the day before, and the day after, and the day after that….

In 2003, Stephen Lewis spoke at an Ontario Hospital Association Conference, passionately detailing the ravages of HIV/AIDS in Africa.  After his speech, Lewis cut short the standing-ovation, exhorting the assembly to stop applauding and instead do something concrete to help combat the pandemic. Much to Lewis’ surprise, within days of his provocative challenge, the doctors and administrators mobilized and created OHAfrica, a unique initiative that would focus efforts on Lesotho, an African country with one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world—over 30 % of adults in Lesotho are HIV positive.

In December 2004, the OHA had their first team of health care workers on the ground in Lesotho, operating out of Tšepong Clinic—which means “the place of hope” in Sesotho, the local language. They are there as part of a three-year partnership with the Lesotho Ministry of Health, helping with the wide-spread distribution of affordable life-saving anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), which are finally available in the Lesotho after years of efforts.

Dr Philip Berger, an AIDS specialist from Toronto heads up the team.  Russell Armstrong, a hospital administrator from Ottawa brings years of professional and personal experience of the loss of friends and colleagues from AIDS to the team.  Pharmacist Marnie Mitchel of Deep River, Ontario provides crucial instruction and ongoing coaching to patients as to how they  successfully take their medications and Toronto’s Sister Christa Mary Jones of the Order of The Precious Blood is the sole nurse for the clinic.

Director Patrick Reed captures the emotional journey of these health professionals and their patients in this verité-style, character driven film. The Canadian medical team struggles to provide quality care in a clinic that lacks the most basic infrastructure—no soap, no toilet paper, no files, few staff, and a limited supply of drugs.  Many critics say that it is fool-hardy to be prescribing ARVs in such a setting—if the drug supply is interrupted, resistance to the ARVs can develop, rendering the medication useless. However, the Canadians proceed with care and medication, painfully aware that the stakes are high and time is precious, with the survival of the entire country hanging in the balance.

The payoff from taking ARVs is immediate and dramatic and unexpected benefits are derived.  Lipuo Booi, on ARV treatment for 5 months has more than doubled her weight and is attending clinic aerobic classes. Clement Letuka can continue to work while he is monitored so he can receive the ARVs as soon as his CD count goes below 200 and Masello and Habofanoe Tsoeu gain the confidence to tell their children of their HIV infection and start an HIV/AIDS support group.

The timing of this documentary is crucial. There finally seems to be the required political will from the UN, African leaders, and the international community to really confront and control the HIV/AIDS crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. This next year is a crucial, historic turning point for Africa, and the world, with literally millions of human lives at stake.  Also, in 2006 Toronto hosts the international conference on HIV/AIDS, an annual event historically noted for both its political posturing and impassioned soul-searching. With the eyes on Canada, the OHA’s concrete initiative will offer a beckon of hope, a model for others to follow.