I first glanced through this book some time back when I was trying to help someone who had learned of being potentially exposed to HIV/AIDS and was awaiting test results (the person tested negative). This experience reinforced for me how important it is to have good information about this disease.
That’s what this book offers and more. Bourke begins the book with a quiz connected to the different sections of the book to test one’s knowledge. I only scored 6 out of 10 and realized that there was much I didn’t know. Bourke then introduces the book describing her own journey into AIDS awareness through a magazine article about AIDS in Africa that caught her attention and changed her life.The six following chapters provide helpful information on various aspects of the disease. She begins with basic facts about the disease, the difference between the terms HIV and AIDS, symptoms, treatment, and the global extent of the disease. She dispels preconceptions that it is primarily a disease among homosexual men (in fact in Africa, more women than men are infected) and that mother to child transmission of the virus is not inevitable but often preventable. Chapter two then goes deeper into health aspects of the disease including its discovery, understanding disease statistics, factors that make infection more likely in both women and men (other STD’s, genital mutilation in women, being uncircumcised as males) and prevention, diagnosis and treatment. She explains the different types of drugs used and how they act against the HIV virus.
Chapter 3 explores an area we often do not understand in the US–the economic impact of the disease, especially in developing countries. Because it has killed so many in the prime of life, it deprives countries of a workforce and creates a huge orphan problem. Also the elderly, instead of being cared for, often are the ones caring for orphaned grandchildren. The economic situation of women particularly contributes to their vulnerability to the disease and microfinance and economic development efforts and changes in laws to protect women’s finances can be particularly important in preventing their exposure to the sex trade or “survival sex” where they exchange sex for ongoing financial assistance. Chapter 4 goes on to explore cultural practices and predominant forms of transmission in different countries–between men and women in Africa, among drug users in Russia, and through sex between men in the US and some other western countries. Chapter 5 goes deeper into the issues of laws and policies both within countries and internationally that can prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, provide for swifter diagnosis and better treatment, and to educate the public to dispel myths and provide accurate information.
The last chapter provides some basic suggestions of what an individual or concerned group, including faith groups, can do to help in advocacy, education, and care for those with HIV/AIDS. The book concludes with a bibliography and websites that provide accurate and helpful information for those who want to go further in their own understanding and involvement.
What I so appreciated about this book was the lack of moralizing and the emphasis on accurate information, understanding the global picture, and most of all the emphasis on hope–what can be done both to reduce new infections and provide good quality of life and care for those living with the disease. It is explicit about sexuality without being either graphic or passing moral judgments. Hence, it is a great gateway book that presents an extensive amount of information in clear and understandable terms in just 120 pages.
I recently reviewed another book in this series, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Question, Direct Answers.