Thursday, September 17, 2020

Race Against Time: Searching for Hope in AIDS-Ravaged Africa

I picked up Stephen Lewis' Race Against Time: Searching for Hope in AIDS-Ravaged Africa some time ago,finding it at a used book sale.  I was intrigued because it's a Massey Lecture, but I didn't know anything at all about it (or about Lewis).  It sat on my shelf for quite some time though; I only really became interested in reading it after watching Bohemian Rhapsody (thanks to the AIDS connection there).

Race Against Time is Lewis' look at how and why the world was failing at meeting the Millennium Development Goals the United Nations set in 2000 (which were supposed to be met by 2015).  The goals set by the UN included wanting to cut poverty in half by 2015.  Lewis argues that if the world continues to ignore the AIDS pandemic in Africa, there is no way to meet any of the goals by that date.  He also takes a look at how the developed world is failing the developing world: the rich countries keep setting lofty funding targets then almost immediately reneging on them, making it impossible to really stop this pandemic (or meet any of the other goals involving education and health).  He also looks at how the African continent came to be in such dire financial straits, especially the unfair strings that were attached to loans from the World Bank.

While the message in this Massey Lecture is infuriating and heartbreaking, I was not a fan of how it was delivered.  Lewis has been working with the UN in one form or another for many years and has incredible experiences with Africa and specifically the AIDS pandemic.  Unfortunately he seemed to draw solely from his experiences most of the time, and the first few lectures in particular felt like he was just name dropping.  One of my biggest pet-peeves when reading nonfiction is that feeling of name dropping, so I was not very happy while reading this.  This wasn't as bad as other books I've read (the really bad ones list people who were "there" for something, then those people are never mentioned again - I find it really confusing because you never know who you actually have to pay attention to in the narrative).  There also wasn't a note section, so again this Massey Lecture felt like it was completely drawn up from Lewis' experience without any other facts to back him up (I don't think this was actually the case because he quoted from some sources during the lectures, so I'm really not sure why they weren't included).

But I did discover a Glossary at the end which was quite helpful because Lewis uses a lot of acronyms, particularly for UN committees and stuff. It was hard to keep them straight while reading, so the glossary was very much appreciated.

While I had issues with the way the information was delivered, I do think this was an important book to read.  It is, unfortunately, somewhat dated; the Millennium Development Goals were supposed to be met by 2015, and he was criticizing them in 2005; I'm now reading this in 2020, five years after the deadline of the goals, so the UN is now working on the aftermath of the goals.  But even though that is the case, this was a good book to read for some background on the current state of Africa specifically in relation to the AIDS Pandemic, and definitely encourages further reading.  I just wish there had been a notes section to better point me in the right direction.

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