Monday, June 25, 2007

Resource Recommendation: AIDS in Asia: A Continent in Peril

Crew! Hey, i would like to recommend that you pick up a copy of Susan Hunter's AIDS in Asia: A Continent in Peril.

"Why? We're not going to work with HIV/AIDS issues when we go to India, are we?", you might be asking, and rightfully so. And while the direct answer is "no, not specifically", this book outlines many of the cultural and social issues that exist in Indian (and other southeast Asian) cultures that make engaging such issues as HIV/AIDS and other poverty-related social issues such a difficult challenge. In addition, many of the church planters with whom we will be working ARE engaging HIV/AIDS issues in their contexts, and while it may be said that we are not engaging that issue directly through our trip, many of the people we are going to serve will be engaging it if they are not already.

According to Hunter, 3% of India is currently HIV positive. By 2010, that figure is expected to rise to 10% (which would be 140,000,000 people). If trends hold, HALF of all of those cases will be located geographically in Tamilnadu, where we do the bulk of our work. In addition, if the former holds true for speculation, then by 2010, there will be almost 3 times as many cases of HIV/AIDS in India than the entire continent of Africa (remember that Africa is a continent with 54 countries... India is a single nation).

Hunter worked for several years with the UNAIDS (The United Nations special task force on the HIV/AIDS issue), and has a very hand's on perspective on not only AIDS, but the social and community implications as well. She is by no means an avowed Christ-follower, and many of her conclusions are downright anti-male (the whole "men are evil and the root of all problems in the world" perspective kind of rubs me the wrong way... though there are some who might agree :- ), but she provides a great analysis of how culture and other issues are often "entangled" with other ones, and how no issue operates in a vacuum. I learned a lot about Indian culture that i didn't already know and often this was completely separate from the HIV/AIDS issue.


Ryan said...

Hey guys, I am split on this book. I agree with Jack that it gives a great view into life in Asia. But I do not think it is worth buying... my advice would be to borrow it from a library or get a used copy.

my conclusion:
This book is written by someone frustrated by the common USA and Christian stance that only abstinence is the acceptable form of birth and disease control. Each of the major world religions frown upon the use of condoms. Add to this that though effective HIV treatment drugs could, and do, cost a dollar a day. The US govt. is supporting its pharmaceutical companies in keeping prices at $10,000 to $20,000 a year. This book is very harsh on the reality, and while in some cases the numbers being used sensationalize the HIV/AIDS epidemic that is coming to the Asian countries, it is at the same time factual.

Not a substitute for reading the book yourself, but to get a flavor of the book see my notes at: said...

Absolutely! I was impacted, however, by Hunter's view that "top down" solutions seldom work with these sorts of large scale issues. For instance, she references that the very gov't officials who were tapped to mandate condom-useage in a Calcutta brothel district are the same men who, at night, refuse to use them.

The prostitutes, therefore, because of their low social status, are "powerless" to enforce their own health and wellbeing, and thus the HIV/AIDS issue opens the door to the bigger issues of female empowerment and culturally reinforced discrimination.

While, like Ryan, i disagree often with Hunter's conclusions, i think that she does a great job of outlining the depth and nature of the problem, and how so often perceived "simple" solutions to problems are inextricably connected to bigger and broader cultural giants.

It helped me realize the "why" behind what we do in India. The local church, motivated through the power of Jesus Christ, is the only thing that will be able to break through some of these cultural barriers, and also have the fortitude and "presence" long term to implement any sort of lasting care.

So...yes... Ryan is right. You shouldn't take Hunter's word for what needs to be done. But you will, however, be made considerably more aware of the issues that confront the people we're going to serve, and the cultural context in which they are currently working.