Surgeon General David Satcher, Commentator George Strait Discuss AIDS Anniversary on NPR’s ‘Morning Edition’
The prospects for someone diagnosed with AIDS today are "much better than before," and modern success against the disease can be traced to changes in public perception, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher said today in an interview with Bob Edwards on NPR's "Morning Edition." When AIDS was discovered in the 1980s, some of the white gay men initially diagnosed "were stars in Hollywood, and I think that forced the issue in a very major way," he said. Satcher's comments on various AIDS-related issues are summarized below.
- Prevention: When asked, "Why don't more people take prevention seriously?" Satcher responded, "As a nation, as a whole, we don't take prevention as seriously as we should. If you don't believe that, take a look at our health budget. Ninety to 95% of our health budget is for treating diseases, many of which we could have prevented in the first place."
- AIDS in the African-American community: Discussing a recent CDC report that found increasing rates of HIV infection among young gay black men, Satcher said, "I think this is a population that is the most difficult to reach. This is what we call the highly marginalized population. They don't admit to themselves or anybody else their lifestyles. Some of them are not homosexual, but bisexual. They have sex impulsively. This is not a lack of knowledge, as far as we can tell; it is a matter of getting the message through in such a way that it modifies behavior. We are still looking for the right key."
- Drug advertising: When asked if advertising for anti-HIV drugs is too "upkey," Satcher said, "We do worry about that because there are young gay men out there who say, 'I don't have to worry, because if I get AIDS, I'll just have to take a pill every day.' They have no real concept of the dangers of AIDS, the fact that it is still a fatal disease or the number of pills these people take every day. And the fact that we still don't know how long they will be able to safely take these drugs."
- Educating immigrants: When asked if it is "particularly difficult to educate immigrants" about their risk of contracting HIV, Satcher said that the Hispanic community is "second only to African Americans" in the rate of new infections and that while the rate of infection is still low in Asian-American communities, it is rising. Satcher said, "What is disturbing is the rate of increase in those communities. I believe a lot of this has to do with the stigma surrounding especially gay lifestyles, homosexuality, and the fact that people in these communities tend to be hidden. ... We don't know how to best get the messages through and how to motivate them to change their behavior."
- Poverty: When asked if being poor increases the risk of HIV infection, Satcher said, "I think throughout the world, poverty is associated with the AIDS pandemic. ... In this country, yes, the AIDS epidemic has evolved and increasingly involved low-educated, poverty communities, predominately African-American and Hispanic."
- Vaccines: When asked whether researchers are close to finding a cure or a vaccine, Satcher said, "It's still seemingly at least five to 10 years away, that's what the experts say who are doing the research. And even then they acknowledge that it is going to be difficult, because this is a difficult virus. ... So we are not as close as we would like to be" (Edwards, "Morning Edition," NPR, 6/5).
Strait Reflects on 20 Years of HIV/AIDS Reporting
George Strait, who began covering HIV as a medical correspondent for ABC News in the 1980s, today reflects on his experiences in an NPR "Morning Edition" commentary. Although Strait called it "patently absurd" that a virus could target someone because of their sexual orientation, in the early days of the epidemic, "unfortunately, many of us reverted to what we have done in every other public health emergency: We focused on who got sick. In essence, blaming the victim. Many of us got caught up in the who of AIDS, instead of the what, where and why." Even reporters, "who should have known better, followed the pack." Strait thought he hid his "unease" with the gay men he profiled in his first AIDS stories "behind a veil of professionalism," but found that his "flamboyant and demonstrative" subjects sensed his discomfort during their initial meeting. Strait was told by his editor that he had to refer to gays only as "homosexuals" because "gay was a political statement" and had to use euphemisms such as "close personal contact" instead of specific terms such as vaginal or anal intercourse. When he went to Africa in 1987 and learned that "an entire generation was threatened," none of his editors believed it. "'You must be wrong,' I was told. I wish I had been," he noted. Strait said 20 years after reporters learned about AIDS, the disease has taught journalists and researchers "humility, patience and in a strange sense, wonder at how such a small piece of genetic material can be so lethal. Whether it is the body's immune system, or the common sense and good judgement of journalists, this virus finds a way of overwhelming all of the forces arrayed against it" (Strait, "Morning Edition," NPR, 6/5).