Who has AIDS in Africa? Between twenty-five and thirty million people do. Because it is so difficult to understand and care for so many unfortunate people, journalist Stephanie Nolen chose to write about a limited number of individuals with the disease, who have lost family, and/or who treat the victims of the disease. 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa works out to about one story for every one million victims.
Nolen spent six years following the AIDS crisis around Africa. In that time she met people in many countries, revisiting them as their disease progressed or regressed. Her contacts included miners and their wives, truck drivers, soldiers, subsistence farmers, teachers, clergy, shop owners, and sex workers. She visited with grandmothers who cared for all their grandchildren because an entire generation of parents was missing. She also visited children who were on their own, trying to live inconspicuously in dangerous neighborhoods. Many of the stories make you want to cry. Others surprise you with how long the victims have survived.
A theme that runs through the book is that the West does not really understand the epidemic and often acts in ways that worsen the situation. Western governments pledge funds that are never actually delivered, or, when they are, come with conditions that lessen the aid. The donors often require the African governments to use funds to buy more expensive medicines from their own countries, limiting the number of doses that can be purchased. They also like to demand reductions in government bureaucracies so debts can be paid, which, of course, results in reductions in health personnel in hospitals and clinics, making distribution of medicines more difficult.
Many think that the situation is hopeless and write the continent off. Nolen's message is that there is hope. She discusses how some prevention and treatment programs have made progress and could make more if the wealthy nations would offer more helpful help.
Nolen also shows how African governments and cultures have often made the situation worse, too. Here again, she offers evidence that some governments are being to understand their problems. Some of the individuals profiled were the first people to admit having AIDS in their communities. Initially, many were shunned but tolerance is growing as more people suffer deaths in their families.
Nolen provides a list of organizations providing help to African AIDS victims in the back of this important work.
All public libraries should get this book into the hands of their readers.
Nolen, Stephanie. 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa. Walker and Company, 2007. ISBN 9780802715982