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To End a Plague

America's Fight to Defeat AIDS in Africa

Emily Bass


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The story of America's unlikeliest, least-known, yet greatest achievement this millennium: containing AIDS in Africa.

As of 2003, there were nearly 27 million men, women, and children suffering from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Today that number has been reduced by more than half. The number of people with access to antiretroviral drugs--a treatment which renders AIDS survivable rather than fatal--has gone from around 50,000 to more than 11 million.

All of this is thanks to a Bush administration program known as PEPFAR. Even on the day of its launch during the 2003 State of the Union, no one much noticed it. It cost a fraction of a percentage of the overall budget and was far less expensive than the Iraq war, effectively announced on the same day. Yet PEPFAR is, according to journalist Emily Bass, "the best thing America has done beyond our borders in this century."

To End a Plague is not merely a history of this extraordinary program; it describes the cost of success in our broken political system. PEPFAR was likely a cynical political ploy--a "legislative trophy" as the New York Times described it--and its overseers, including the now-famous Coronavirus Task Force leader Deborah Birx--had to make moral and political compromises to keep it from being shut down. Yet the program has persevered and made an enormous improvement in millions of lives. This is the story of true change and what it takes to make it.

PublicAffairs, 9781541762435, 416pp.

Publication Date: July 6, 2021

About the Author

Emily Bass has spent twenty years as a journalist and activist focused on AIDS in Africa and American foreign aid. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous books and publications including The Lancet, Esquire and n+1, and received notable mention in Best American Essays. She is the recipient of a Fulbright journalism fellowship and is the 2018-2019 Martin Duberman Visiting Research Scholar at the New York Public Library. She lives in Brooklyn.