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Black Death: AIDS In Africa - New Book Describes Impact Of Pandemic - 2004-02-02


A new book describes HIV/AIDS as “fast becoming the worst human disaster the world has ever seen.” It says in the next ten to fifteen years, AIDS will claim more lives than any other human epidemic ever recorded.” And sub-Saharan Africa is bearing the brunt of that human disaster.

The book, Black Death: AIDS in Africa, is blunt in its analogy of the pandemic. It says, “Every year and a half, AIDS claims more lives than the Holocaust – and with the pace accelerating, there will be a new holocaust every year.” Author Susan Hunter says it will be worse than the plague known as the Black Death that struck in the 12th and 13th Centuries.

"When I compared it to other epidemics, I found that already 70 million people have been infected with HIV and those estimates are probably low. So by 2010, more people will have died of AIDS than died in the Black Death. That was 93 million people."

The 70-million infections, Ms. Hunter cities, for HIV/AIDS includes those currently living with the disease, and the 20 to 30 million who have died over the past two decades or so. The title of the book, Black Death, was used connote the seriousness of the pandemic.

"We were a little bit concerned that people might find it a bit off-putting and perceive it as racist. But so far, I think, people understand from reading the first few chapters that it’s just a very human book. It also references, the title references, the fact that 70 percent of people around the world affected by AIDS are in Africa."

Ms. Hunter writes, “HIV/AIDS is the first epidemic of a totally new disease since the 1400’s. Adding, “It is the first global epidemic to begin after medicine crossed the threshold to modern times in the 1950’s.”

"In roughly twenty, twenty-five years we’ve identified the virus. We’ve identified how to test for it. We’ve identified how to test for it. The only thing we haven’t been able to do, and I think it will elude us for some time, is to create a vaccine, which is quite a shame of course, but there’s not much hope right now for the creation of a vaccine. So, we’ve come very, very far in terms of the science of HIV/AIDS in a very short period of time."

Nevertheless, she says history has shown that epidemics last a “long, long time” and predicts HIV/AIDS will be around for as long as 300 years.

But HIV/AIDS is more than science, research and statistics, so the book also puts a human face on the disease. Susan Hunter, an anthropologist and demographer, has spent many years in Africa. Besides running AIDS prevention programs, she has served as a consultant to UNAIDS, UNICEF, USAID and various governments. During her work, she has met many people directly affected by HIV/AIDS, including an elderly couple in Zambia.

"This family consisted of two elderly people, well in their 70’s, very hard working, faithful couple, who had raised none children and put them through college. Every single one of their children had been professionals. They were taking care of twenty-one children, the smallest infant to an 18-year-old. These children were the offspring of six of their children, six professionals who had died of AIDS."

The book also follows, in novel-like style, the efforts of two Ugandan women, Molly and Robina, as they work to establish an HIV/AIDS care and prevention program. The two characters are based on numerous African women Susan Hunter has met.

The author takes a strong stand on access to medicines. She says, “In the age of AIDS, denial of drugs that keep westerners alive for ten to fifteen years is racism writ large and, to many, nothing short of genocide.” She says despite the fact that millions die every year from the disease, it is perceived as less of a threat than terrorism.

"This is the biggest disease event the human race has ever seen, yet terrorism, which claims far fewer lives, is getting so much more attention."

Susan Hunter writes, “HIV/AIDS threatens the well-being of the entire human species in five ways.” First, AIDS brings “unprecedented illness, suffering and death, distorting population distribution and structures.” Second, as disease, famine and poverty take their toll on Africa, the security of many countries is threatened. Ms. Hunter says, third, HIV/AIDS has created an “economic drag, a downward spiral of lost productivity.” Fourth, HIV AIDS “has created a huge and ever-growing disease reservoir…that is fundamentally dangerous to the developed world.” And finally, she says the disease also creates a “permanent reservoir of shame in developed countries” for failing to fully fund HIV/AIDS programs. This includes the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The Author of Black Death: AIDS in Africa says over the centuries, Africa has been “systematically persecuted, victimized and robbed of its people and wealth.” She says a lack of action to fight the pandemic would be a continuation of that legacy.

Note: In Africa, the book is being published under the title: "Who Cares? AIDS in Africa."

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