Dan Rather regularly spoke about the AIDS epidemic, reminder readers in 2002 that it remained a “deadly worldwide crisis that will only get worse if not dealt with forcefully.” He laid out a dire picture of countries unable and sometimes unwilling to tackle the crisis head-on. While a full 70 percent of the worldwide HIV/AIDS cases were in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2002, the disease made the biggest advances in China, India, and the countries of the former Soviet Union.
While he praised President Bush’s 2003 pledge to help countries in African and the Caribbean, Rather was critical of the fact that aspects of the HIV-prevention aspects of the U.S. plan emphasized abstinence over condom distribution. He revisited the issues in 2008 when he looked at PEPFAR, the President’s emergency plan for AIDS relief. The program required that one third of its money for prevention be spent on abstinence and fidelity programs and not condoms, not for sound public health reasons, but, its critics argued, as a way to appease President Bush’s Christian base.
Rather also looked at what other countries were doing. In 2008, he traveled to what is often called one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Vancouver, Canada. As the city prepared to host the 2010 Olympic Games, it tackled one of its greatest challenges: how to deal with the highest HIV rate in the western world, one in three residents and a 70 percent rate of hepatitis C. Inspired by similar programs in Europe, the city decided to support a controversial measure that allows for a safe place to inject drugs, and, they hope, lower the risk of AIDS transmission. They implemented a broad plan called “harm reduction,” with a supervised injection site, the only place of its kind in North America, with sees seven hundred IV drug users every day. The program was a success, with a reduction of syringe sharing, an end to overdose fatalities, and an increase of the rate of detox by 30 percent.
Back in the States, Dan Rather Reports investigated the skyrocketing rates of HIV infections across the southern United States, where more than 50 percent of new infections are reported, by far the highest area in the nation. In 2012, the South had eight of the ten states with the highest infection rates and nine out of the ten worst cities, including Jackson, Mississippi, Memphis, Tennessee, and Miami, Florida. Over 20 percent of HIV cases in the South are rural, in small towns. The investigative team followed the work of Dr. Michelle Ogle, who tries to raise awareness and improve the lives of her patients in the sleepy town of Henderson, North Carolina. They also talked to Kathie Hiers, the head of “Aids Alabama,” which does everything from free HIV testing to drug treatment to lobbying the federal government.