TWN Info Service on Health Issues (Jul13/01)
10 July 2013
Third World Network

Fire in the Blood: A moving documentary of real heroes and villains

Dear Friends,

The following is a write up by Shila Kaur, of a film ‘Fire in the Blood’ which was screened during the recent World Health Assembly in Geneva.

With best wishes


Fire in the Blood: A moving documentary of real heroes and villains

By Shila Kaur, Penang, 10 July 2013

On the sidelines of the recently convened 66th World Health Assembly (WHA) held in Geneva from 20 – 28 May 2013, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)  hosted the screening of Fire in the Blood, a groundbreaking and provocative documentary on the global fight for access to life-saving medicines with particular reference to HIV/AIDs.   Held at the Swiss Press Club on 21 May 2013, the screening which began at 6.30 pm in the evening, was exclusive to participants at the WHA and invited guests.   Present at the screening were its director Dylan Mohan Gray and a panel including Mohga Kamal-Yanni from Oxfam,  Rohit Malpani from MSF’s Access Campaign and James Love, Director at Knowledge Ecology International, USA.

With almost a full house of 150 persons in the audience, it was obvious that viewers came with a knowledge base of the issue and expectations of meeting some of the lead players in the documentary and possibly hosting similar screenings either in their home countries and workplaces or for advocacy and educational activities.

The website for Fire in the Blood, calls it “An intricate tale of ‘medicine, monopoly and malice’ – of how Western pharmaceutical companies and governments aggressively blocked access to low-cost AIDs drugs for the countries of Africa and the global south in the years after 1996 – causing 10 million or more unnecessary deaths – and the improbable group of people who decided to fight back.

Fire in the Blood was shot on four continents and includes global figures such as Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu and Joseph Stiglitz.  It tells a tale of “the remarkable coalition which came together to stop 'the Crime of the Century' and save millions of lives in the process.”

The film critiques the system by which medicines become subject to monopoly, and in that respect can be regarded as being “political” in its aim.  According to Dylan, “The biggest obstacle to reforming the current system is the dogged intransigence of the international pharma industry, which has almost unfathomable financial resources and political clout.  90% of the billions upon billions of pounds this industry spends on marketing every year is directed at doctors, whose relationships of trust with their patients the companies seek to leverage for commercial gain.”

Some of the leading figures depicted by Dylan in Fire in the Blood are medical doctors who stood up against systems that devalued patients lives.  “To me, these people are true heroes, and embody the very best ideals of your profession,” writes Dylan in his blog.

Like others in the audience Fire in the Blood moved me to tears – it is a story of courage and empowerment amidst hopelessness and injustice, about small people fighting big battles when the stacks are high against them and the unbearable loss of unlived lives that mothers must bear.  It is about power and cruelty on one hand and humanity and goodness on the other.  I came away with admiration and respect for those unsung heroes, which Fire in the Blood made immortal on the screen so that the world can witness and partake in their bravery and rejoice in the human spirit to fight for what is right and just, irrespective of the outcome.

This was a story that needed to be told and Dylan did a marvellous job of it. 

Please watch this documentary. 

For those of us in the international health community working on rational use of medication, you will see and hear familiar faces and voices.  The message always hits closer to home when it is spoken by familiar and loved ones.

I list some of the reviews for Fire in the Blood:

“quietly devastating... a testament to human decency and a damning indictment of laissez-faire capitalism.”



"A shocking documentary about how big Western pharmaceutical companies blocked access to low-cost anti-AIDS drugs, causing a holocaust of 10 million deaths.  Desmond Tutu, Bill Clinton and many brave activists speak out... CRITIC’S CHOICE -- ★★★★ (4 stars)"

Kate Muir, THE TIMES


“A film to provoke fury... it's the arrogance and greed of the drug tycoons that leaves a lingering impression, as they conspired to allow ten million to die simply so that they could maximise their profits -- ★★★★ (4 stars)”

David Parkinson, EMPIRE


“Brilliant... a real-life David and Goliath story... an amazing documentary and a story that really needed to be told”



"indispensable viewing... extremely moving... a powerful documentary that demands to be seen by as wide an audience as possible"  “This is a shocking account of international trade terrorism sanctioned by Western governments.”



"incisive and damning... the film is utterly absorbing and impossible to forget -- ★★★★ (4 stars)”

Jeremy Aspinall, BBC RADIO TIMES


"an emotional rollercoaster... there are moments of great triumph, humanity, hope, sadness, disgust and disbelief. There are very real heroes and villains. [...] Watch the film if and when you can -- ★★★★1/2 (4.5 stars out of 5)"



“makes its case with cold, irrefutable logic...only an unthinking monster could leave the cinema unmoved and unenlightened -- ★★★★ (4 stars)”

Donald Clarke, THE IRISH TIMES