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HIV/AIDS: A Postmodern Epidemic and Its Depiction (March 2016): Global Health and Human Rights

By Sharon Leslie

Global Health and Human Rights

UNAIDS reported that in 2012 sub-Saharan Africa accounted for almost 70 percent of the people living with HIV worldwide.  Although combination antiretroviral therapy was developed a decade ago, many in Africa still do not have access to it, in spite of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights stating that health is a right and people worldwide with AIDS have a right to ART.[1]  This is in part because the African continent, which has more than fifty countries and 2,138 living languages, is plagued by societal issues—wars, famine, crime, corruption, and poverty—that exacerbate the difficulty of treating and preventing AIDS.  Numerous books detail issues surrounding human rights on the African continent, particularly in South Africa.  A useful basic resource is HIV/AIDS in South Africa, edited by S. S. Abdool Karim and Q. Abdool Karim, which is written in layperson language and covers gender and sexuality issues, economics, risk factors, and prevention interventions.  Shattered Dreams?: An Oral History of the South African AIDS Epidemic, by Gerald Oppenheimer and Ronald Bayer, presents interviews with physicians and nurses (black and white, working at both urban and rural healthcare facilities) on the front lines of South Africa’s epidemic during apartheid.  They describe how racial inequality affected not only the health care received, but the health care provided.  In 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa, journalist Stephanie Nolen, a four-time winner of the Amnesty International Media Award for human rights reporting, profiles women and men from sub-Saharan Africa, including an HIV-positive minister, a child, a prostitute, a physician with Doctors Without Borders, and Nelson Mandela, whose son died of AIDS in 2005.  The book contains black-and-white photos of each person profiled and maps showing where interviewees lived.  Women, Motherhood and Living with HIV/AIDS: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, edited by Pranee Liamputtong, focuses primarily on Asia and Africa and deals with the effect of HIV infection on fertility, child-bearing status, and birth.  Women’s Global Health and Human Rights, edited by Padmini Murthy and Clyde Lanford Smith, provides a broad overview; though only two chapters are devoted specifically to HIV/AIDS, the disease is referred to throughout because of its broad reach across society.  AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame, by Paul Farmer (cofounder of Partners in Health), examines how Haitians have been targets of AIDS-related discrimination since the CDC’s 1983 recommendation that physicians be aware of the earliest identified high-risk groups, nicknamed the “4Hs”—hemophiliacs, homosexuals, heroin users, and Haitians.  A Decade of HAART: The Development and Global Impact of Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy, edited by José Zuniga et al., collects essays on the impact of HAART worldwide, in nations both wealthy and poor.

Reporter Anne-Christine D’Adesky’s Moving Mountains: The Race to Treat Global AIDS reports on research in Cuba, India, Africa, Russia, Mexico, and Haiti, where she studied the consequences of patents and trade laws that are keeping hundreds of thousands of people from getting treatment because of resource gaps in the basic infrastructures of many of the countries.  Three Decades of HIV/AIDS in Asia, edited by Jai Narain, details cultural, political, and economic factors of disease transmission and prevention.  AIDS in the Twenty-First Century: Disease and Globalization, a well-researched introductory textbook by Tony Barnett and Alan Whiteside, covers the history, etiology, pathogenesis, and spread of the disease, along with economics, health policy, government responses, and prevention strategies, all with a global focus.  Taking the position that one must respect human rights to treat patients properly, Lawrence Gostin wrote The AIDS Pandemic: Complacency, Injustice, and Unfulfilled Expectations as a one-stop resource for HIV/AIDS-related litigation and AIDS policy issues.  The book deals with “right to know” partner notification, health data security, needle exchange programs, drug pricing, and rights of health care workers.


[1] World Health Organization, Fact Sheet No. 31,

Works Cited