4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Out of Africa,
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This review is from: The Origins of AIDS (Paperback)
In "The Origins of AIDS" Jacques Pepin, an expert in infectious diseases who has spent many years working in Africa, explains how HIV spread from a few cases in the Congo in the 1920s to the pandemic it is today.
The story begins with SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus) which is present in chimpanzees and is genetically identical to HIV. It is thought that SIV originated in chimps about 300 years ago and was transmitted to humans by cut hunters or cooks who butchered the animals. Then in about the 1920s someone infected in this way had the opportunity to spread the virus more extensively. Pepin argues that two factors allowed for the amplification of HIV: urbanization with an attendant increase in prostitution, and most significantly massive colonial disease eradication projects which resulted in mobile units injecting hundreds of people an hour with insufficiently sterilized needles. From here HIV steadily became more prevalent until one infected Haitian introduced the disease to their country precipitating (via the plasma industry) an epidemic which eventually spread to the US and the world.
Scientists are pretty certain about some of the steps in this story, others are more conjectural; however, Pepin builds a convincing argument with plenty of context and comparable examples. One does not have to have a scientific background to understand his argument and this is, for the most part, a readable book which fills a gap in the literature on AIDS. My only criticism would be with Pepin's overuse of exclamation marks (e.g. "Approximately 250,000 paid donors (a quarter of a million!) acquired HIV.") which is indicative of a wider problem of tone.
How SIV originated in chimps is outside the scope of the book, as is the history of AIDS from the eighties and the personal experiences of AIDS sufferers. For those interested in the early history of AIDS in the US, I would recommend Randy Shilts's excellent And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic.