A New York Times Notable Book of 2007
The Invisible Cure is an account of Africa's AIDS epidemic from the inside--a revelatory dispatch from the intersection of village life, government intervention, and international aid. Helen Epstein left her job in the US in 1993 to move to Uganda, where she began work on a test vaccine for HIV. Once there, she met patients, doctors, politicians, and aid workers, and began exploring the problem of AIDS in Africa through the lenses of medicine, politics, economics, and sociology. Amid the catastrophic failure to reverse the epidemic, she discovered a village-based solution that could prove more effective than any network of government intervention and international aid, an intuitive response that calls into question many of the fundamental assumptions about the AIDS in Africa.
Written with conviction, knowledge, and insight, The Invisible Cure will change how we think about the worst health crisis of the past century--and indeed about every issue of global public health.
Epstein, a public health specialist and molecular biologist who has worked on AIDS vaccine research, overturns many of our received notions about why AIDS is rampant in Africa and what to do about it. She charges that Western governments and philanthropists, though well-meaning, have been wholly misguided, and that Africans themselves, who understand their own cultures, often know best how to address HIV in their communities. Most significant is Epstein's discussion of concurrent sexual relations in Africa. Africans often engage in two or three long-term concurrent relationships which proves more conducive to the spread of AIDS than Western-style promiscuity. Persuade Africans to forgo concurrency for monogamy, and the infection rate plummets, as it did in Uganda in the mid-1990s. On the other hand, ad campaigns focused on condom use helped imply falsely that only prostitutes and truck drivers get AIDS. In addition, Epstein examines what she calls the "African earthquake": social and economic upheaval that have also eased the spread of HIV. Epstein is a lucid writer, translating abstruse scientific concepts into language nonspecialists can easily grasp. Provocative, passionate and incisive, this may be the most important book on AIDS published this year indeed, it may even save lives.