Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"The Invisible Cure"

Helen Epstein writes frequently on public health for various publications, including The New York Review of Books and The New York Times Magazine. She is currently a visiting research scholar at the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton University.

She applied the "page 69 test" to her new book, The Invisible Cure: Africa, The West and the Fight Against AIDS, and reported the following:
The HIV epidemic in East and Southern Africa is uniquely severe. Half of all new cases of HIV occur in this region, home to less then 3% of the world’s population. The Invisible Cure: Africa, The West and the Fight Against AIDS suggests that this probably has something to do with sexual behavior. It is not that African people have so many sexual partners, but that they are more likely than people in other world regions to have more than one — perhaps two or three — ongoing sexual relationships at a time. Epidemiologists have shown that this pattern of behavior gives rise to a network of sexual partnerships that serves as a “superhighway” for HIV.

In the pages preceding page 69, I learn from a group of young Maasai men that this pattern of behavior has a powerful social, economic and historical basis, not only for the Maasai, but, as I will learn later on, for other groups as well. On page 69, I am asking the Maasai youths about abstinence and fidelity and then I prepare to conduct a condom demonstration for them. However, their responses make it clear why these behavioral changes are difficult for them. The book then goes on to discuss what kinds of HIV prevention programs have been attempted in Africa. I find that where HIV prevention has worked, the success depended crucially upon something for which the field of public health currently has no name or program. It is best described as a social movement, based on a sense of solidarity, compassion or mutual aid that is impossible to quantify or measure.
Learn more about The Invisible Cure at the publisher's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue