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Health Crises throughout History (January 2022): AIDS/HIV


In the famous book And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, Randy Shilts discusses how the gay community came together, cared for one another, advocated and protested, and got the US government to take HIV/AIDS seriously. If not for these heroic figures, AZT, the drug that first treated HIV, would never have been funded, researched, or formulated, let alone reach those who needed it. Since this seminal work by Shilts, there has only been one book that tells the story of grassroots activism and how public officials, religious leaders, and many others would have been happy to leave the gay community to perish. In How to Survive a Plague, David France tells the heroic stories of everyday people who fought for their lives through protest and the formation of ACT UP and TAG. France shares the real-life tales of doctors, drug smugglers, researchers, and lobbyists, all of whom were part of the struggle for HIV/AIDS drug funding in the 1980s. 

On the African continent HIV/AIDS has left many communities with only small children and grandmothers, the parents having all been taken by the epidemic. Nowhere is this story told better than in 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa by Stephanie Nolan. Nolan spent more than five years talking to people on the African continent who have HIV/AIDs about their lives. The results are compelling human stories about human rights, or the lack thereof, education (and misinformation), conflict, starvation, devasting poverty, and transportation. 

In the classroom, instructors have many textbooks to choose from. Weeks and Shors, in AIDS: The Biological Basis, include statistical findings, prevention efforts, historical perspectives, testing, and pharmacology. This text shines through its discussions of epidemiology and ongoing vaccine research. Hung, Conner, and Villarreal’s AIDS: Science and Society includes similar topics, but it  focuses more deeply on the psychological and biomedical aspects of the virus. Both texts are excellent resources.

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