Dropping Like Flies: How We Talk About AIDS in Africa
Doctor-turned-journalist Uzodinma Iweala puts a human face on one of the most talked about epidemics in history.
Over the last decade Africa has become a global synonym for HIV/AIDS, a continent of orphaned children and lantern-eyed women. American PSAs and fundraising collateral flog the same devastating statistics: 23 million infected, 1.2 million deaths per year. In the cultural imagination, HIV/AIDS has arguably morphed from the "gay cancer" into the "black scourge."
In his new book Our Kind of People: A Continet's Challenge, A Country's Hope, doctor-turned-journalist Uzodinma Iweala explores how seemingly innocuous rhetoric scrambles any clear understanding of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Crisscrossing Nigeria, his family's native country, Iweala interviews truck drivers, sex workers, doctors, patients, and activists, asking each what it means to live alongisde the epidemic. In the process, he captures the fragile human stories behind all the catastrophic numbers.
Iweala, whose previous work includes a novel, Beasts of No Nation, is also a graduate of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 2007 he was selected as one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists. I recently spoke with him about how clinical experience informs his journalism, the metaphors we use to talk about AIDS, and the virus' guerilla humor.