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Greg Behrman, The Invisible People; How the US Has Slept Through the Global AIDS Pandemic, the Greatest Humanitarian Catastrophe of Our Time (New York: Free Press, 2004)

           By any measure, the most recent statistics of the global AIDS crisis are staggering. Nothing less than a genocide or holocaust is underway, with experts suggesting the worst is yet to come. From the UNAIDS 2004 report (see "In 2003, almost five million people became newly infected with HIV, the greatest number in any one year since the beginning of the epidemic. At the global level, the number of people living with HIV continues to grow—from 35 million in 2001 to 38 million in 2003. In the same year, almost three million were killed by AIDS; over 20 million have died since the first cases of AIDS were identified in 1981." Every day, about 8,000 people die of AIDS. In some countries like Malawi, life expectancy has dropped to less than 40. In Botswana, as many as 40% of adults are HIV positive. Beyond the humanitarian health crisis, Behrman demonstrates how the AIDS crisis is a national security issue because it impacts almost every segment of a country—labor, education, economy, the military, and so on. Today, therefore, nations must deal with state weakness and not only state strength.

           Behrman's book is at once depressing and inspiring. For the most part, the world response to the global dimensions of AIDS has been feckless, and this includes government leaders, African despots, competing organizations, and Christians. Dozens of factors have coalesced to foster the world's tepid response—denial, stigma, misconceptions, racism, conspiracy theories, myopia, other urgent health care crises (malaria and TB), a dearth of resources, the long incubation period of HIV, bureaucratic inefficiency, and fatalism. But along the way there have been many Good Samaritans who had the moral imagination to make a difference so that today we have UNAIDS, the Global Fund, and, improbably, a pledge from the Bush administration for $15 billion to fight the pandemic. People who have toured one of the many Holocaust museums have often asked, "how could people have known what they did and failed to act?" Behrman urges us to apply that same logic to the global AIDS crisis. What Colin Powell said in reference to sub-Saharan Africa (the focus of much of the book since it is the epicenter of the virus) applies just as much to the entire world: "There's no war more serious, there's no war causing more death and destruction, there is no war on the face of this earth that is more grave than the war...against HIV/AIDS" (p. 266).

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