End of Transmission
The story of HIV told from the point of view of the virus. A Radio 4 Saturday Drama by Anita Sullivan.
Winner of the Tinniswood Award, and the BBC Audio Drama Award for best Single Drama 2023.
Finalist for the Writer's Guild Award for Best Radio Drama 2023.
I am a Positive Voices speaker with Terrence Higgins Trust. Positive Voices go out to schools, corporates and healthcare settings: we tell our stories of living with HIV to whoever needs to listen. And there is plenty of good news to spread, like the government’s goal to end transmission of HIV in the UK by 2030.
Does that news surprise you? If so, no wonder.
Don’t Die of Ignorance
There has been no government issued health advice on HIV since the Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign in the 1986. Since then, the story of HIV has been told in vignettes. Personal journeys, stories of the activism or science. The lens has often been Northern-Hemisphere and focused on the 80’s and 90’s. The picture is much, much bigger. That’s the story I wanted to tell. Radio 4 gave me an hour: the Saturday Play. How to put all of that in an hour? It was a big challenge and a huge responsibility, shared with my fearless producer Karen Rose of Sweet Talk productions.
I live with HIV. I give talks about HIV. I have listened to the wonderfully diverse and powerful stories of my fellow THT Positive Voices speakers. I’ve been on panels and focus groups.
But I had a huge amount of research to do. I read books, watched documentaries and films, listened to podcasts and viewed web pages from virologists through to denialists. I interviewed people. I asked questions like ‘when you imagine the virus in your body, what do you see?’ I threw the net as wide as I could. When first draft script was ready I had it fact-checked by THT and the British HIV Association. I did my homework, but End of Transmission is not a documentary.
In the drama, it’s Jude’s 50th birthday. She has never known for certain how she caught the HIV. But the virus does. She stops taking her medication and brings her virus out of its 20-year stasis to ask questions. The virus is happy to oblige, but only if she listens to his story first. He begins in Kamerun (German Cameroon) in 1916 and ends a century later, the links in a chain of transmission finally leading to Jude.
Fact and Fiction
In the drama fact and fiction meet. Jude is my age. Like me, she has lived with the virus long enough to see significant medical advances. She’s lived in some of the cities I have. But Jude is not me. Her HIV journey is different. She is also more interesting than me, especially when voiced by the amazing Louise Brealey (Sherlock). She shared her ‘perfect day’ with David Carlyle (It’s A Sin) and was supported by an amazing ensemble cast who wove a story across decades and continents.
The drama was counterpointed by the real stories of Positive Voices speakers Jess, Stephen, Tim, Allan, Roland, Mary, Ese and Niamh. They are the heart of the drama and it's truth.
But there is a danger of the virus being more interesting than any of us, particularly when played by the mercurial David Haig (Killing Eve).
VIRUS: I’m not like other plagues. Arriving with a splash like Ebola, surfing in waves like flu. I am a slow, silent tide. I cruise. Travel on your passport, hitch up for the long-haul. Float in your blood, semen, vaginal fluid. Milk. Doesn’t get more intimate than that. And then I have to watch you die.
The virus should not have the last word, that’s the point.
JUDE: I have one last story to tell you. A secret. I can’t pass it on. Together, we will end you.
THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT HIV
There is still no cure or vaccine for HIV, but..
· All blood products in the UK have been screened for HIV since 1985 and are safe
· Prenatal testing for HIV in the UK has reduced mother-to-baby transmission to zero
· Post Exposure Prophylactic (PEP) medication can stop HIV if you have recently been at risk
· Pre-Exposure Prophylactic (PrEP) medication prevents HIV infection
· HIV tests are as quick and simple as a lateral flow test, and you can test at home
· On effective medication people with HIV have undetectable levels of the virus..
· WE CAN’T PASS IT ON no matter what we do
When did you last test for HIV? To find out if you are HIV negative go to https://freetesting.hiv/
‘End of Transmission’ was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 July 2nd 2022 (also on BBC Sounds and iPlayer). It was a Sweet Talk production directed by Karen Rose, with sound design by David Thomas. See our award citations (the thing that's in those gold envelopes) below. We're very proud.