Spread of HIV Could Have Been Curbed by Changes in Sexual, IDU Practices, Opinion Piece Says
The U.S. HIV/AIDS epidemic "could have been greatly contained by intense campaigns to modify sexual and drug-use behavior in 25 to 30 neighborhoods from New York [City] and Miami to San Francisco," but "political values impeded public health requirements," columnist George Will writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. Most U.S. residents 25 years ago thought an infectious disease epidemic was "anachronistic" because the polio vaccine "gave Americans a misleading paradigm of how progress is made in public health," according to Will. Early in the U.S. HIV/AIDS epidemic, "[u]nhelpful messages," such as "AIDS does not discriminate," were "sent by slogans designed to democratize the disease," Will writes. He adds that when President Reagan in 1987 gave his first speech on HIV/AIDS, he "did not mention any connection to the gay community" because "no president considers it part of his job description to tell the country that the human rectum, with its delicate and absorptive lining, makes anal-receptive sexual intercourse dangerous when HIV is prevalent." Although "pharmacological progress has complicated the campaign against this behavior-driven epidemic" by slowing the progress of the virus, AIDS-related deaths in the U.S. have been declining for 10 years in part because of the disease's "deterrent effect," Will says, concluding, "Human beings do learn. But they often do at a lethally slow pace" (Will, Washington Post, 6/6).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.