Like any epidemic, AIDS has been sweeping in its lethal reach. Its victims have included gay males, injecting drug abusers, heterosexual men and women, and the babies of infected women. A TV documentary by “Frontline” chronicles its toll and leaves viewers with no doubt that, with a vaccine still years or decades in the future, better prevention will be the key to keeping AIDS from devastating other regions as relentlessly as it has southern Africa.

“The Age of AIDS,” as the film is called, is a reminder of what might turn out to be Bush presidency’s finest moment: His commitment in his 2003 State of the Union speech of $15 billion over five years to help Africa and the Caribbean cope with AIDS. President Clinton also comes off well, both for making it a priority in office and for his efforts since. The contrast with the indifference of President Reagan is striking.

The film lays bare all the prejudice, profiteering, and denial that have marred the response to AIDS. But it is full of heroes, from the Brazilian schoolteacher who fought in court to get Brazil committed to universal drug treatment to the AIDS activists in the industrialised countries, who shamed governments and pharmaceutical companies into making the drugs available to the world’s poor as well as to AIDS patients in the West.