Administrator pens book on HIV/AIDS

Traveling through Sao Paulo, Brazil with AIDS outreach workers, Shawn Smallman saw and heard many intense and heartbreaking stories.

Traveling through Sao Paulo, Brazil with AIDS outreach workers, Shawn Smallman saw and heard many intense and heartbreaking stories.

He saw an HIV-infected man who couldn’t take his medication because it affected his job performance. He saw a woman raising her baby in filth and squalor. He heard a story about a woman infecting herself with HIV so she could live with her HIV-infected husband in a Cuban government-sponsored sanitarium.

For the last five years, Smallman, vice provost for instruction and dean of undergraduate studies, has been collecting his experiences, traveling, conducting interviews and studying the topic of AIDS and HIV in Latin America. His efforts will cumulate in the release of his book, The AIDS Pandemic in Latin America, on April 24.

“One of the things I wanted to do with the book is not make it depressing,” Smallman said. “It sounds a little corny, but a core part of the book is it’s much about hope.”

Little has been written about AIDS in Latin America, according to Smallman, who said his book will fill a need and inform the world about the impact of the AIDS pandemic in that region. Smallman interviewed gay leaders, drug traffickers, crack addicts and prostitutes to give a well-rounded look at AIDS and HIV in the region and to show what it means to the rest of the world.

There are about 40 million people in the world who have HIV. Two million live in Latin America.

The way Latin America has dealt with HIV has changed the debate globally about HIV, Smallman said. In Brazil, they provide free HIV medication for everyone in reach of a federal clinic, which has led to a drop in mortality rates.

More people are getting tested and the Brazilian government has saved money, Smallman said.

The five years it took Smallman to prepare and write his current book is short compared to the 11 years it took to write his previous book, Fear and Memory in the Brazilian Army and Society, 1889-1954. Smallman traveled to Cuba, Brazil, Mexico and many other countries to get a sense of how the disease affects the different regions of Latin America.

“Normally when you work on a book, it’s a good, satisfying process,” Smallman said. “It’s also kind of lonely.”

Smallman said the goal for the book was to have it be readable on a wide scale, and not just be a scholarly book used for classrooms. Each chapter begins with a story about how HIV and AIDS affect regular people.

Part of the purpose of the book is to provide education about HIV and AIDS. Smallman said the United States could learn a few things from how Latin America deals with the diseases.

The U.S. routinely helps other countries with HIV prevention, but with stipulations that those countries teach abstinence-only education and that research not include talking to sex workers, Smallman said. Recently, Brazil turned down a large grant from the U.S. because of these stipulations.

“How can you fight this disease if you don’t have conversations with sex workers?” Smallman said. “These stipulations around that funding have created a lot of international resentment.”

Smallman was given creative access to the design aspect of his book that most authors do not have. The cover design, which Smallman requested, shows a Latin American event where the citizens lit a candle for everyone in the community who died from AIDS.

The candles were set in the shape of a skull. His publisher, the University of North Carolina Press, at first did not want to display this on the cover, but eventually gave in.

“I’m really pleased with the book,” Smallman said. “It came out exactly as I wanted.”

Smallman said that sometimes he thinks about the topics he writes about and wonders if they are too dark. His first book was on military torture, and along with the book on HIV, he said it seems like there is a bleak streak running through his research. Even so, he said he writes about what is important to him.

“I love the chance to go into another world and go into a place I don’t know anything about,” Smallman said. “It’s such a privilege.”