Our Kind of People by Uzodinma Iweala
When people discuss HIV/AIDS, they often talk numbers – there are roughly 33 million HIV-positive people in the world; the number of new infections around the world is decreasing; 68 per cent of those living with HIV in 2009 were in sub-Saharan Africa.
But in Our Kind of People, Uzodinma Iweala tries to humanize the disease. He talks of the loss that individuals, families and communities face when the virus hits.
Iweala says there is too much sensationalism in media, when HIV should be seen as an illness that could be part of someone’s regular, boring life.
And he’s fighting any notion that AIDS is part of Africa’s identity. He says the 4 per cent of people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa don’t represent the other 96 per cent. He’s fighting the image that implies, “Disease is African-ness and African-ness is disease.”
To bring HIV away from the numbers, Iweala talks to people living with or affected by the virus.
He meets a man who tells him he wouldn’t want to be HIV negative again, because he has accepted the virus as a part of his life.
He meets a woman who has lost her aunt, someone who was like a mom to her.
He meets an HIV-positive humanitarian worker who is trying to send out the message that people can live with the virus, rather than just die from it. She wants to show that those who carry the virus are still strong, and that they can live a regular life.
He brings it all to eye-level through the stories he passes on to the reader.
Iweala says the most important step in the world’s fight against HIV/AIDS is openly talking about it in order to slowly remove the stigma, and that’s something he’s helping accomplish with this book.
Staying on the topic of HIV/AIDS and sub-Saharan Africa, there’s another book I would recommend, in case you missed it in 2008 - Stephanie Nolen’s 28: Stories of Aids in Africa. Nolen is a foreign correspondent with the Globe and Mail, and she wrote this book after covering Africa for several years. Nolen tells 28 personal stories of people affected by the virus. The stories are both devastating and inspiring.
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