For me there is nothing better than a book that makes you think. Although it has been a while since I read it, the book The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS did just that. What a fabulous read. Author Elizabeth Pisani draws on her years of working as an epidemiologist trying to understand the HIV epidemic, particularly in Asia (read more at her blog), to create a funny, intelligent and well-researched book that is educative and entirely readable. I devoured it in a few evenings. I have been wanting to post about it for a couple of months now but left the book in the Solomon Islands for a colleague to read. So I am unable to draw from Elizabeth’s writings in this blog but thought it was high time I posted on it.
I also heard Elizabeth talk on National Radio, in an interview with Catherine Ryan. It was fantastic to hear her remind us all that what we are essentially dealing with when we try to prevent/mitigate HIV and AIDS is sex and drugs. And that means we are talking about pleasure. Yes, pleasure. People actually have sex because it is fun. Don’t you? Of course there are those who have no choice, or who have a set of choices that you would never wish on your worst enemy. But for a great deal of people, sex is enjoyable. And we tend to forget that in our discussions of condom negotiation, partner reduction, abstinence etc. And this has an impact on the way we go about talking to people about HIV.
I have mixed feelings about the focus on HIV in international development. It is a hideous plague that has, and continues to, kill so many people across the world – mothers, fathers, nurses, doctors, teachers, police, politicians, children. It needs attention and it cannot be forgotton. However, at times I wonder if we are spending money in the right places for the right reasons. And Elisabeth confirms that we aren’t, particularly not in the world outside of Sub-Saharan Africa (and a handfull of other countries that include PNG and Haiti). We’re not paying anywhere near enough attention to sex workers, men who have sex with men, and injecting drug users. And we’re not paying enough attention to the type of sex people have, who they have it with and when. These are crucial considerations to make when deciding how to spend our precious aid dollar. But discussion about sexual behaviours and injecting drugs have never really been great topics in the open-plan offices of official aid agencies (even though they are fun).
I would like to write more about HIV because it is a fascinating and interesting topic, as well as being a severe health issue. But it is complex and it is not my key area of focus. So bear with me and when I have some time I will pull my thoughts together and share them with you.
In the meantime, get reading the Wisdom of Whores – a guarenteed good time in bed.