Profiles from the Front Lines of Africa's AIDS War 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa profiles one person whose life has been affected by AIDS for every million people living with the disease on the continent — from medical workers to those dying from AIDS and those orphaned by it.
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Profiles from the Front Lines of Africa's AIDS War

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Profiles from the Front Lines of Africa's AIDS War

Profiles from the Front Lines of Africa's AIDS War

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

AIDS: Stephanie Nolen, welcome to the program.

STEPHANIE NOLEN: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: And you write at the outset of the book that you call it "28" for 28 stories, one for every million people living with HIV-AIDS in Africa. But it could have been 26, 30, who knows how many?

NOLEN: Yeah, it's - it is still at this point unfortunately very much a rough guessing game - how many people who are living with the virus in sub- Saharan Africa. The sad truth is that probably 90 percent of people infected still have not had access to testing. And in lots of countries, they still haven't got the skill people or the equipment to do a really good survey of how many people there are infected.

BLOCK: I know that the numbers of people in Africa who don't have access to drugs, that number is huge. But I was also very surprised to read about the numbers of ways in which generic free for the patients' drugs are getting in, and one of those places is in probably one of the hardest places to treat people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And you talk about the work of Amisi Christine. Let me see - who runs what you call a miracle clinic.

NOLEN: And if they have access to a steady supply of drugs so that they don't end up drug resistant, and Tina was not going to let this - they're not going to let this insurgency get in the way of doing her job. And they've had - they kept it running through years now of periodic violence and they have about 800 people in treatment and they're all thriving.

BLOCK: And you write if AIDS could be treated here, it could be treated anywhere.

NOLEN: That's the good news, the bad news is that's still only a quarter of the people who are sick and have to need it today. But so many people said it couldn't be done, and it's been done all over the continent. It's been done even in the middle of a civil war in the Congo.

BLOCK: One of those people who said it couldn't be done was then head of USAID, Andrew Natsios, and you quote him saying before Congress, talking about drugs are needed to be taken on a schedule. He said: In Africa, people did not know what watches and clocks are. They use the sun.

NOLEN: And most of the treatment projects that have been successful in Africa have originated with African activists who fought their own governments and who fought pharmaceutical companies to get access to the drugs but who then - what they rely on to make treatment successful is to create an environment where treatment adherence is a community undertaking.

BLOCK: Let's end on and hopefully a bright note and that's in Uganda, which has had great success in reducing the incidence of AIDS. And you profiled a doctor there who's working on an AIDS vaccine. What did he tell you about the prospects he sees for that?

NOLEN: He tries to remain optimistic. I think he does have days when he gets discouraged and I think that those come when he has to go back to his community because of course for Pontiano, it's not just science, it's not just a job but its his family, the people that - his friends and his relatives that he's lost to AIDS over the last 20 years.

SIEGEL: Obviously, that will be big news everywhere in the world. But it will be so important in Pontiano's town.

BLOCK: Stephanie Nolen, thanks very much.

NOLEN: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: Stephanie Nolen's book is "28: Stories of AIDS in Africa." You can read an excerpt at our Web site, npr.org.

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