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AIDS in America Hardcover – March 16, 2006
From Publishers Weekly
Hunter writes that more than one million Americans are infected with HIV, and the infection rate surged between 2002 and 2003. A consultant to UNICEF and other health organizations, Hunter makes two main points in this wide-ranging polemic. The first is that AIDS is no longer confined to marginalized populations; the second is that government policies and the influence of the Christian right are helping to ensure its unnecessarily rapid spread. The book centers on Paige Swanberg, a young single mother from Billings, Mont., who was infected after a brief liaison with a newcomer to town. By the time Hunter encounters her, Swanberg is an AIDS counselor and activist who has learned that her paternal grandfather also died of the disease. "AIDS in the United States is a family disease," Hunter writes, and she uses Swanberg's family—her mother, biological father, adoptive father and two sisters—to illustrate how the rise in the number of single-parent families, the advent of government-sanctioned abstinence-only sex education and the monopolistic policies of American drug companies have combined to create a recipe for a coming public health disaster. Hunter's ability to render such a large body of information coherent is impressive. At times, she undercuts the wealth of information with too much polemic and unsubstantiated and alarmist statements. 16 pages of b&w illus. (Mar. 28)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Hunter brings the continuing AIDS epidemic into the living room by featuring a young woman from Billings, Montana. Paige Swanberg doesn't fit the profile many may conjure when they think about people with AIDS (PWAs), and that is precisely why Hunter interviewed her and the handful of others contacted for this book. The point Hunter wishes to make is that AIDS is swiftly becoming more common and potentially more deadly, especially given projections of the development of drug-resistant mutations, than most people think. She blames the Religious Right and U.S. government policies that conceal or downplay the peril, diminish women's rights, and even promote AIDS proliferation through an out-of-control prison system. Hunter gets top marks for passion and shocks per page but scores rather lower for documentation of the staggering statistics she cites (e.g., 14,000 new PWAs every day and estimates of 130 to 240 million by 2010). Still, eye-opening reading. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The statistics are shocking yet inevitable once it becomes clear how half-hearted efforts have been to thwart the disease. According to the Center for Disease Control, between 2002 and 2003, the U.S. experienced a surge in new HIV infections and crossed the million milestone in 2005. Yet, it's the human face that Hunter brings to AIDS that makes her book resonate as deeply as it does. She has developed a heartbreaking narrative primarily derived from extensive interviews she held with Tom and Paige Swanberg of Billings, Montana and their families. Through Tom's infection, they become the vehicle by which we recognize the intractable connection points among the various religious, political, economic, and social forces that have actually increased the number of AIDS cases here.
While the personal impact of the Swanbergs highlights both strengths and weaknesses in character that Hunter documents in moving detail, there is also the not-so-startling revelation of an enormous and fatally flawed political system and medial infrastructure dictated by ignorance and presumptive thinking. The exploitation of the epidemic has been sadly seen by some as an excuse to manifest their greed and allow the public to live in fantasy about the current state of disease. What has resulted is a shift in the chief demographic of HIV/AIDS from an exclusively male populace toward the perceived fringes, specifically teenagers who are too young to know about the first outbreak in the 1980's and aging baby boomers who think they are part of a pre-AIDS generation. In fact, one of the most poignant stories in the book is about Susan Howe, a sixty-year-old Pittsburgh activist infected ten years ago in a brutal rape.
As always, there is the prevalent perception that AIDS is the disease of gays and addicts, and the government is more than willing to support this misconception to support their own agenda. The newest victims, according to Hunter, have been deliberately provided with misinformation, and once infected, they become promptly ignored by the system that s supposed to help them. Tom's story, in particular, is a much-needed wake-up call about the importance of discriminating behavior and self-protection.
Hunter does provide hope through examples found in other parts of the world, specifically Brazil's efforts to arrest the spread of AIDS worldwide. In deciding to provide medical treatment for all those infected with HIV, Brazil apparently prevented at least half of the new infections projected for 2002. This was done at a cost of less than $100 million spent on producing free AIDS drugs from 1997 to 2001 and translated into a savings of $1 billion in medical costs. The author leaves the reader a sense of hope even within a seemingly insurmountable barrier against political mobilization. Her book provides an indispensable light into a long, dark tunnel.
Ms. Hunter repeats results from many studies to back up the claims she makes, but fails to adequately cite these studies. When she does cite a study often does not go into enough detail to allow one to interpret the results. For example, she talks about a study that says 80% of prostitutes have contemplated suicide, but does not say what percent of people in general contemplate suicide.
Sometimes she just doesn't understand the scientific information she reports. She says " Sexual arousal in the vaginal wall decrease the pain threshold 50 percent, while orgasm reduces it 100 per cent". Of course, if this were true stimulation would make women more susceptible to pain, and orgasm would mean pure agony. I do think that Ms. Hunter meant "increases", if not, I advise her to find a new sex partner.
My only consolation is that I checked this book out from the library and I did not waste my money on it, only my time.