VICE Special Report: “Countdown to Zero”


Overview: Twenty years ago, HIV/AIDS was a death sentence. Now, through advances in medication, it has become a largely manageable chronic disease – and there may finally be a cure on the horizon. VICE investigates recent breakthroughs in medical science to see how close we are to life without AIDS. states – On Tuesday December 1, World AIDS Day, HBO premiered VICE’s new hour-long special report, Countdown to Zero, about the breakthroughs in treatment and prevention of HIV and AIDS. In it, VICE co-founders Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi talk to the patients, policymakers, activists, clinicians, and researchers leading the international charge for an AIDS-free world.Vice_CTZ01-300x169

Smith also sat down with former president George W. Bush to talk about the PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) initiative, one of the lasting legacies of the Bush administration. Alvi and Bono—U2’s singer and co-founder of (RED) and One—then headed to Rwanda, where PEPFAR’s efforts have almost fully eliminated mother-to-child HIV transmission and cut infection rates in half. While progress looks good in Rwanda, South Africa still struggles to stem the disease, but the country’s clinics are about to launch the largest vaccine trial in history.

“We’re on the brink of scientific developments that will end the disease for good—but it isn’t gone yet,” says Shane Smith. “Millions are still being infected every year. This documentary is a comprehensive look at the state of HIV/AIDS today, how far we’ve come in fighting it, and how far we still have to go.”


Expectations: If this report is anything like the VICE Special Report: Killing Cancer the steps in medical research being taken may seem radical and extreme and yet hopeful. I appreciate that VICE and HBO are putting focus on the issue. See if you are as hopeful that the cure for at least one deadly disease is possible soon. Check out this trailer.


Gut Reaction: At first glance it appears that VICE is upping its production style a bit. This special report has all new slick graphics and soundtrack. I also noticed that Shane Smith, host of the special with included segments by Suroosh Alvi, filmed his intros not at VICE Media HQ in Brooklyn, New York, but in VICE Studios in Los Angeles. VICE has sunk so me money into upping its presence, but more on that another time. Let’s talk about the particulars.

After Shane Smith gives an overview of the history of AIDS both in this country and around the world the points he wants to make clear are divided into six segments. Part 01- Outbreak: I did not know that a recent outbreak of HIV/AIDS broke out in Austin, Indiana in March of this year. It was due to heavy drug usage in the area via shared needles. This current outbreak verifies that AIDS is still thriving in not just Africa, but in the U. S. Alvi interviews an infected user. Now that we have established that the disease still rages here and abroad we go to the step.

VICE_CTZ02-300x169Part 02 – Vaccine: This portion addresses that a number of drug cocktails have been designed and a making headway. The first drug form the 80’s, AZT, was too toxic in itself, but since then there has been progress. One cited vaccine comes via HIV positive people who never develop full-blown AIDS. They are called non-progressives and their genetic buildup is of big interest.

Part 03 – The Trials: drug testing needs done to prove the effectiveness of treatments thus, volunteers are needed and Alvi goes to Johannesburg, South Africa to report that this crucial step is gearing up with a massive clinical trial period. The country of Rwanda shows the most success in Part 04 – An AIDS-free Generation. Due to aggressive campaigning from former president George W. Bush and singer/activist Bono, that county has seen a boon in funding to inch closer to eradicating mother-to-child infection. If that cycle can be broken it is a win-win and they are close.

Part 05 – PrEP Here we learn of some medical jargon as we are explained the process of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, a drug that does not cure AIDs but prevents it. It is all due to medical sleuthing, genetic coding and genetic manipulation. Part 06 – Cure: we are introduced to Timothy Ray Brown. He is the one and only man cured of AIDS and believe me, he is tested and probed and each of his chromosomes screened and his testimony heard over and over. His story held the most interest for me as a viewer.         

All the above steps are played out in a concise and intelligible manner that anyone can get through the 50-minutes without scratching your head in confusion. VICE’s go-to doctor, Dr. June (seen first in the KILLING CANCER report) helps simplify. Easy to watch and important.



In Conclusion: In watching this I actually felt more hopeful that AIDS could be eradicated than I did for the chances of cancer being stopped in its tracks after watching KILLING CANCER. In that report the medial inroads seemed like radical, desperate experiments on the fringes of science, but this AIDS report just sounds more logical, more practical and more possible. Maybe just my perception or maybe VICE just told the story a bit differently this time out. It does sound hopeful that at least deadly killer can be thwarted. Hopefully, we are seeing a Countdown To Zero.

 VICE Special Report: COUNTDOWN TO ZERO is available to view in its entirety off of HBO. You know though that if we embed the piece it will expire after so long, so when it does just head over to or YouTube and look it up. Peace.

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