In this groundbreaking narrative, longtime Washington Post reporter Craig Timberg and award-winning AIDS researcher Daniel Halperin tell the surprising story of how Western colonial powers unwittingly sparked the AIDS epidemic and then fanned its rise. Drawing on remarkable new science, Tinderbox overturns the conventional wisdom on the origins of this deadly pandemic and the best ways to fight it today.
Recent genetic studies have traced the birth of HIV to the forbidding equatorial forests of Cameroon, where chimpanzees carried the virus for millennia without causing a major outbreak in humans. During the Scramble for Africa, colonial companies blazed new routes through the jungle in search of rubber and other riches, sending African porters into remote regions rarely traveled before. It was here that humans first contracted the strain of HIV that would eventually cause 99 percent of AIDS deaths around the world.
Western powers were key actors in turning a localized outbreak into a sprawling epidemic as bustling new trade routes, modern colonial cities, and the rise of prostitution sped the virus across Africa. Christian missionaries campaigned to suppress polygamy, but left in its place fractured sexual cultures that proved uncommonly vulnerable to HIV. Equally devastating was the gradual loss of the African ritual of male circumcision, which recent studies have shown offers significant protection against infection.
Timberg and Halperin argue that the same Western hubris that marked the colonial era has hamstrung the effort to fight HIV. From the United Nations AIDS program to the Bush administration's historic relief campaign, global health officials have favored well-meaning Western approaches--abstinence campaigns, condom promotion, HIV testing--that have proven ineffective in slowing the epidemic in Africa. Meanwhile they have overlooked homegrown African initiatives aimed squarely at the behaviors spreading the virus.
In a riveting narrative that stretches from colonial Leopoldville to 1980s San Francisco to South Africa today, Tinderbox reveals how human hands unleashed this epidemic and can now overcome it, if only we learn the lessons of the past.
This absorbing interdisciplinary study of HIV/AIDS explores how the West inadvertently unleashed the AIDS epidemic and then failed to combat it effectively, especially in the most vulnerable regions in Africa. Drawing on the latest genetic research, Washington Post reporter Timberg and Harvard epidemiologist and medical anthropologist Halperin trace the disease's origins in the Cameroonian jungle, where HIV's transmission from chimps to humans coincided with the rapacious period of colonial expansion as the quest for rubber sap and ivory created new transportation networks (porter paths, steamship lines, airstrips, and highways), along which the disease traveled, and a large, hectic colonial city (Leopoldville; now Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Africa's susceptibility, the authors suggest, was partly due to changing social customs. For example, Christian missionaries discouraged rituals such as male circumcision, now known to significantly reduce the spread of HIV. As the Western powers (namely the U.N. AIDS program and President George W. Bush's initiative) poured money into combating the spread of AIDS, they favored biomedical approaches (shots, pills, HIV testing, condom promotion) and ignored potentially life-saving African initiatives, such as modifying sexual behavior and male circumcision. Highlighting the politics of AIDS, where there were powerful incentives to work within the conventional wisdom to win lucrative government contracts, this timely expos advocates practical solutions to a seemingly intractable problem.
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Very good book, that unravels many misconceptions