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Eradication: Ridding the World of Diseases Forever?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Publication Date
DOI: 10.3201/eid1807.120474
  • Book Review
  • Biology
  • Medicine
  • Political Science


Letters.indd BOOKS AND MEDIA The Origins of AIDS Jacques Pepin Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2011 ISBN-13: 978-0521186377 (paperback) Pages: 310; Price: US $28.99 This excellent but frustrating book is essential reading for anyone deeply interested in the early history and dissemination of HIV/AIDS. Interest must be deep because the author spares few details about colonial medical systems in the former French and Belgian territories, Congolese politics around independence, and a host of other obscure matters. The book’s strengths include clear explanations of complex themes, such as the molecular evolution of simian and human retroviruses, and a comprehensive review of early events in the pandemic. Many of the book’s sections are engaging. For nonspecialists, the book provides some of the most intelligible analyses of molecular epidemiology and the early history of HIV/AIDS, including consideration of different explanations of the origin of HIV. For example, the author usefully examines and dismisses the hypothesis still promulgated by Edward Hooper that HIV originated in eastern Congo during the 1950s after material grown in monkey or chimpanzee cell cultures was used for mass vaccination against polio. Nonetheless, readers will cover a lot of material that could have been omitted or skip sections not essential to the core theme. Fascinating insights and anecdotes are scattered throughout the text. The reader will fi nd commentaries on early tropical researchers and public health offi cials, as well as description of a cryptic wasting illness in the 1930s referred to as “Cachexie du Mayombe.” The clinical description of patients with this syndrome is eerily reminiscent of patients with AIDS: “an assembly of bones held together by skin… whose only life lay in their gaze.” There is also an incidental but valuable discussion of the late Jonathan Mann, founding Director of the World Health Organization’s Special (later

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