In the realm of the arts, it takes bravery to produce certain works that observe topics that may come across as taboo, controversial, overt, and may cause uncomfortable conversation.
New York native Maggie Betts has taken that step in courage and bravery. As a first time filmmaker and producer, her debut, The Carrier, is an 80-minute documentary following a Zambian family in a legalized polygamist marriage that involves three women and an abundance of children between them all.
There’s an even bigger catch, though: The four parents involved are HIV positive.
Declared as a 2011 Official Selection for the Tribeca Film Festival, Zurich Film Festival, and winner of the Best Documentary for the Lone Star Film Festival 2011, among others, Betts’ vision is told in a rural landscape with beautifully spacious cinematography and a story that snags your heart.
Betts and her crew follow Mutinta Mweemba on her journey as she discovers her HIV positive status and becomes concerned about preventing the virus from spreading to her unborn child and all the transformations in between
The concern is less about her personal self and health, and more about protecting the health and longevity of her unborn child.
“The movie is about an idea, the idea of the possibility of seeing an HIV-free generation in the next 10 or 15 years, and however I can sell that idea is worth the effort for me,” Betts told an audience recently.
In partnership with the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women & Gender in the Arts and Media at Columbia College, the film was screened in the College’s Film Row Center and presented as part of UNICEF’s Profile Series, which aims to bring together socially dynamic presentations by international leaders in child survival and development.
UNICEF’s focus on the safety and survival of children extends to Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT). Their PMTCT programs offer voluntary testing and counseling for pregnant women, and provides pediatric treatment along with antiretroviral medication for HIV-positive mothers and babies.
As a philanthropist and regular volunteer for United Nations organizations, Betts’ commitment and advocacy for the rights of HIV positive women and children in sub-Saharan Africa is a much needed and appreciated part of UNICEF’s profile series.
Within the documentary, there’s an identifiable message: The high totality and risk of HIV positive mothers and children.
Zambia is among the 25 countries with the highest estimated numbers of pregnant women living with HIV; they are all in need of antiretroviral therapy.
Well over 90 percent of new infections among infants and young children occur through mother to child transmission. The virus can be contracted during birth and/or breastfeeding.
This is frightening because of the limited choices a mother has when nursing a newborn.
Choice one is to give the baby formula and risk the baby becoming sick or dying from unsafe water and shortening their life span –– (Fast Fact: More than 6,000 children die every day from diarrhea caused by poor sanitation and contaminated drinking water).
Choice two is to breastfeed the child and worry constantly if they’re being infected.
Without proper treatment, close to 15 to 30 percent of babies born to HIV-positive women become infected with HIV during pregnancy and delivery. Furthermore, five to 20 percent become infected through breastfeeding.
Here’s the mission: By 2015, UNICEF Zambia aims to reduce the incidence of HIV among women and possible mothers by 50 percent.
Combined with the message from Maggie Betts’ body of work and the continued efforts and donations from supporters, there is hope for an HIV-free generation in Africa and beyond.
Here’s how you can become active in this effort to create an HIV-free generation:
• Provide 28-Mother-Baby Packs: a take-home box of PMTCT drugs designed for women and children who have limited access to conventional, high-quality preventive HIV/AIDS care.
• Provide Shelter for a temporary school or health center in a crisis zone with an emergency tent. The tents can enable continued educations, house immunization campaigns or offer neo- or post-natal treatment.
• Provide clean, safe drinking water for two communities. More than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water and more than two billion lack basic sanitation.
• Provide HIV screening test kits for 200 mothers to be. Every day 1,000 children become infected with HIV. The tragedy is that in most cases the child contracts the virus from their mother during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.
That’s why programs such as PMTCT are so adamantly important. The program instructs and advises the mother on how to take care of their baby while pregnant and even after birth.
(To find out more about UNICEF’s Chicago Midwest Regional Office, visit HYPERLINK “http://www.unicefusa.org/midwest” www.unicefusa.org/midwest. You can also access The Carrier trailer at www.thecarrierfilm.com.)