Some amazing stuff I didn’t know about HIV

    When Western countries finally got serious about fighting the AIDS epidemic and put billions into condom distribution and HIV testing in Africa, were they committing a huge blunder?

    My guest on Fresh Air today has written a provocative book with plenty of surprising information about the HIV virus, and he makes a convincing case that international AIDS groups went charging off in the wrong directions in fighting the epidemic.

    Craig Timberg is the former Johannesburg bureau chief for the Washington Post, and in his new book he shows how two relatively simple and inexpensive approaches proven effective in stemming the spread of HIV in Africa were overlooked by Western agencies for years.

    You can learn about them in his book, or in our interview today on “Fresh Air.”

    Timberg also has a fascinating description of the history of the virus. It existed among chimps for perhaps millennia in a remote area in central Africa, and likely infected humans several times over the past few hundred years.

    Timberg explains that it wasn’t until colonial powers came to African and expanded contact among humans that the infection led to an epidemic. The critical contact was probably about a hundred years ago, and by 1960, several thousand were likely infected in the Congo.

    The story of HIV’s journey to the West and discovery in the United States makes for fascinating reading.

    Timberg’s book with epidemiologist Daniel Halpern is called “Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome it.”

    I’ll be hosting “Fresh Air” this week as Terry Gross gets a breather. Tomorrow: the gripping story of the battle to” contain the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

    You can hear “Fresh Air” at 3 and 7 on WHYY, 91FM. If you’re listening outside the Philadelphia area, find a station here. And you can always listen, find more information, and get podcasts at the “Fresh Air” website.

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