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The Wisdom Of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels And The Business Of AIDS

F. Bastos
Published 2009 · Political Science

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Elizabeth Pisani is a brave woman. The wisdom of whores combines passion, commitment, courage and humour. She does not hesitate to challenge the establishment at all levels, including the ghosts haunting her own private life. Most people conceal their own contradictions, but she is sincere enough to confess that while she could work well with people who misuse substances, she could not share her life with a husband who was abusing substances himself. Some of her sentences may sound harsh and even cruel, but never hypocritical. Pisani’s central argument is that there is a pressing need to return to the ‘naked truth’, i.e., concrete facts, about how the HIV and AIDS epidemic spreads. She argues that the truth is veiled by ‘sacred cows’ fed by either vested interests (of the so-called AIDS industry, politicians, etc.), or by prejudice towards the two key sensitive issues: sex and drugs. No one is spared in her critique of the establishment (reminiscent of Jonathan Swift’s acid style), which implicates everyone and everything from religion to public health professionals, activists, diverse institutions, governments and donors. Her text seems to belong to a heterogeneous family of books and papers published recently, such as Helen Epstein’s, The invisible cure: Africa, the West and the fight against AIDS (2007), reflecting on why the AIDS epidemic progressed unabated in some contexts despite three decades of diverse interventions. AIDS would appear to be an exception in comparison to other epidemics, yet I would argue that it is an exception for reasons other than those Pisani mentions. She argues there is much activism in the field of AIDS and asks her readers if they have ever heard of leprosy activists. If they exist, they are barely visible even to us, the insiders (e.g., professionals with a long-term commitment to public health). On the other hand, I am not aware of a book by either a Brazilian or a foreign expert about why we, Brazilians, failed so miserably for centuries in our attempts to control leprosy. In this sense, AIDS is avery healthy exception. It is a field full of sound and fury, as Pisani describes, but at the same time it is an open arena with lively debate. Controversy? Yes, plenty of it, but the harshest controversy is better than denial and silence. Does it mean there is no denial in the field of AIDS? No, quite the opposite! Seth Kalichman (2009) recently published a book on the topic, Denying AIDS, which cites many examples of negligence, denial and ignorance in a variety of combinations. Yes, there is denial and indifference towards the fate of entire nations, social strata or people with X or Y characteristics. But there is also criticism and debate. As for leprosy . . .only silence. Pisani is always vehement and passionate, making her strengths deeply intertwined with her weaknesses. Not a single word is dubious, but at the same
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