A disturbing picture of the status of AIDS in the United States and an angry claim that the country has failed utterly to confront the problem.
Hunter, a medical anthropologist who has previously written on the specter of AIDS in Africa and Asia, asserts not only that the United States has the most severe HIV epidemic of any developed country but that AIDS will soon become the worst epidemic this country will ever know. Most Americans, she says, are woefully ignorant about AIDS, still thinking of it as something that affects homosexuals and drug users, but not themselves or the people they know. To counteract this notion, she focuses on the story of Paige Swanberg, a white, middle-class woman from Montana who learned that she was HIV-positive when she tried to join the Navy and has since become an AIDS counselor. Hunter also interviewed a number of other activists and people touched by AIDS, and her text is heavily larded with their comments, some pertinent but many not. She is particularly scornful of the Christian Right, deploring its abstinence-only approach to sex education and its disinformation campaign about condoms, and she has harsh words for the Bush administration for catering to their demands. The government, she claims, has failed to protect citizens through acts of commission and omission: e.g., its “war on drugs,” with a mass-incarceration approach that promotes the spread of AIDS, as crowded prisons becoming ideal breeding grounds for drug-resistant superstrains of HIV; its cuts in funding for treatment programs; its attacks on women’s reproductive rights; its withdrawal of support for housing and food for HIV-positive Americans. Hunter is clearly outraged by what she sees, and her language reflects her wrath: a government that “doesn’t seem to give a damn”; “right-wing hatemongers” and “vote-buying liberals”; and a drug industry with a “stranglehold” on government.
The author’s vituperation may alienate some, and her voluminous statistics may turn off others, but her demand that attention be paid comes through loud and clear.