Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tinderbox: How the West Fueled the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It

One of my favorite places to be are in those areas that are not easily aligned along any ideology. I love the complexities, the exception areas. I enjoy being just a little different.  I think, actually this is where the truth typically lies.  Ideology actually can make you stupid.  In that link, they suggest to deduct 10 IQ points anytime you try to simplify an issue into a simple story.  This is why when I listened to the interview with Craig Timberg about a book he co-wrote with Daniel Halperin about the AIDS epidemic and about how the ideological response from both parties proved ineffective when applied in Africa.  The result was millions of dollars utterly wasted in Africa while countless numbers continued to be infected and die from the virus.  I, of course, was interested, and recently, I finished the book.

This book is an extremely interesting and ambitious book, taking the reader through the history of AIDS beginning at the turn of the twentieth century until today. The AIDS virus has been around for a long time but buried in the depths of African jungles, passed among monkeys.  During the early twentieth century when Africa was experiencing rapid colonization, however, western countries invaded Africa for the purposes of exploiting it for its natural resources, particularly ivory and rubber.  These countries forced many more people into these jungles, building transportation networks from the African jungles into metropolitan cities nearby.  This link from the jungles eventually extended throughout the globe.  All it took was for the virus to jump from primate to human and to establish a deep sexual network along the transportation network to get the virus access to the broader globe.

The AIDS virus moved from monkey to man probably when someone was butchering monkeys for food. A single cut could allow the virus access into humans.   Colonization destroyed African familes and ruined cultural norms established for centuries as African men were exported to distance factories for cheap labor.  Prostitution and multiple sexual partners bloomed providing a tinderbox for the AIDS virus to explode globally.

The modern debate about how to combat AIDS in Africa also show just how clueless American policies can be when applied to cultures we know nothing about. Throughout the Bush administration, who admirably, in the name of compassionate conservatism, devoted millions of dollars toward the African AIDS problem ended up being misapplied. Both sides were wrong. The conservatives wanted to emphasize abstinence programs. The liberals wanted condoms. Neither approach realistically worked.

The Uganda leader, Museveni, said about condom use:
In countries like ours, where a mother often has to walk twenty miles to get an aspirin for her sick child or five miles to get any water at all, the practical questions of getting a constant supply of condoms or using them properly may never be resolved.
From  Halperin, Daniel; Timberg, Craig (2012-03-01). Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It (Kindle Locations 1927-1929). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
 Or as someone in South Africa said about condom use:
“Ah, Craig,” he replied in a sheepish, smoke-cured voice. Then he began to tell me the truth about condoms. Some people used them some of the time. Some people never used them. Almost nobody used them all of the time.

Halperin, Daniel; Timberg, Craig (2012-03-01). Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It (Kindle Locations 3462-3464). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
The problem with abstinence programs is similar.  You can't spend 50 years destroying a culture and all of it's family safeguards and internally established taboos then expect large percentage of people to just turn to a Western imposed morality.

The solution to the AIDS epidemic were pretty simple actually and were two fold.  Communities where a large percentage of the African men were circumcised had much lower rates of AIDS infections.  The foreskin provides a natural and easy way to pass the virus during heterosexual sex.  Second, leaders within the African community - religious, cultural, and political- had to be actively engaged in changing the internal cultural around sexual behavior.  If the number of sexual partners can be reduced, the sexual networks shrink and the virus has less opportunity to spread.
To Halperin, it seemed that the best hope for preventing HIV could be found in places such as this, on the front lines of the epidemic, where values were defined and often powerfully expressed. He thought, as he often had before, that initiative coming from those most directly affected, working in their own communities, could be the most potent force to finally overcome AIDS.

Halperin, Daniel; Timberg, Craig (2012-03-01). Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It (Kindle Locations 4692-4695). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
The main lesson from the book is to be careful about idealogical rigidity, these tend to be wrong and at times devastatingly so.  We need to be careful and willing to reassess our biases and to accept the truth even if it lies outside the boundaries of our own political party or ideology.

1 comment:

Davey said...

unrelated again, but have you seen this?