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August 17, 2005


JAMA. 2005;294(7):849. doi:10.1001/jama.294.7.849-a

As in the fable, for blind men to “see” an elephant, they must mentally integrate the different parts that they each feel into a coherent whole. AIDS is the medical elephant of our times, but for us to see it whole, like the blind men, we have to examine it part by part.

Already AIDS has killed millions worldwide. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that as of 2004 another 40 million persons are living with HIV, and about 14 000 new infections occur each day. But much more than sheer size defines the AIDS elephant. The pandemic has so many constituent parts beyond medicine—economics, sociology, education, history, international affairs, culture, ethnicity, research, and ethics, among many others—acting synergistically, that assembling the parts into a coherent whole entails great complexity.

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