Lessons from the Past, Warnings for the Future

The concluding lecture on The Great Plagues takes the example of HIV/AIDS and discusses how reactions to the epidemic mirrored those found in the social and cultural perception of earlier epidemics.

As in earlier epidemics, sufferers have been ostracized, persecuted or blamed for their own misfortune. In South Africa the government of Thabn Mbeki dismissed AIDS as an ideological constuct of neo-colonialism building on racist stereotypes of Africans as sexually irresponsible, with disastrous consequences.

HIV/AIDS has spread rapidly through modern means of communication, such as air travel, just as cholera was spread by traffic on railways and steamships. Future epidemics may spread even more rapidly, and the series concludes by asking what, if anything, can be done to prevent them.

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