How, and how not, to stop AIDS in Africa

“We have … emerged from the Age of Inaction to the Age of Ineffective Action,” writes William Easterly in his review of The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS, Helen Epstein’s new book on AIDS in Africa.

In Africa, AIDS is now a multibillion-dollar industry, with the US President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (GFATM), the United Nations’ AIDS consortium, UNAIDS, and major efforts by the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the Gates Foundation, and national aid agencies. Unfortunately, these well-meaning efforts are badly weakened by political agendas, misdirected priorities, ignorance, and plain incompetence.

To illustrate the role of political agendas, Epstein discusses the famous success story by which AIDS infection rates in Uganda decreased as a result of the ABC campaign—’Abstain, Be Faithful, and Use Condoms.’ Epstein damns both the Western right and left for their misuse of the lessons of Uganda. The religious right played up the “Abstain” part because it happened to fit their particular moral preferences. People on the left, who had different sexual morals, said just use condoms. The ‘Be Faithful’ message, precisely the one in Epstein’s story that was critical in Uganda (led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who called for “Zero Grazing”), was a political orphan, disdained by both left and right.

The book is receiving such good reviews that it sounds increasingly like a must-read for those who hope to participate in future debates on the issue.

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