May 12, 2013

No Time To Lose by Peter Piot

Ebola, AIDS, these are viruses that the mere mention can cause people to become worried and alarmed. While there have been many campaigns to bring awareness to the causes that seek to treat and prevent them, there is still a certain stigma that hangs on to them. Peter Piot, in his work as UNAIDS head, seeks to reducer that stigma and help prevent the spread of AIDS with his work, and wrote this book to accompany those ideas.

Piot started off in medical school with the notion that he wanted to specialize in infectious diseases. And he was told no to bother since they were disappearing from the world. Luckily, he didn't listen, and was on hand to research the first few deadly outbreaks of Ebola and then be a part of the research team for AIDS. His longest work would be with AIDS and he would be a part of several organizations, including USAIDS, throughout his career. The book showed a little of his initial time spent in Zaire working with the Ebola virus and then the larger part of it would be about AIDS and the numerous meetings and people he met to discuss the worldwide effects of the virus.

There are a lot of people in this book. So many that keeping track of them would be absolutely mind boggling and if you didn't know them in real life or hadn't followed them through research papers and other documents, you'd be completely lost. How do I know this? I was completely lost as I didn't know who any of these people were and they were briefly mentioned only to be whisked away again. Piot himself is a clear narrator but while he describes a little bit of his homelife, we only really know his work life, and even that more on the bureaucratic side of things rather than the medical work with actual patients.

This book alternated between being fascinating and boring. The first part, where Piot is working with the Ebola virus, is the interesting part. He details the symptoms, how it was spreading through the population and what they were trying to do to treat it and stop its progression. There are some parts when he is working with AIDS that shares this depth of detail and look into the virus itself. But sadly, the larger portion of this book is devoted to his meetings with people and traveling around trying to defend his organization's actions and other such administrative detail. Unless you like this sort of paperwork type of writing, it is not interesting in the least. While the work they were all doing is very important, it just didn't translate well to the page and I don't think it helped the cause any. Learning about the disease and the people effected by it (personal stories of the people) would have been much more effective.

This is a memoir though and I can't judge it too harshly on that aspect. This is Piot's life and maybe he wrote it to show everything that he did, rather than make it a tool of awareness for infectious disease. Still, when you go into it thinking it will be about something else, it does disappoint in parts.

No Time to Lose
Copyright 2012
379 pages

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