Tuesday, June 06, 2006

25 Years of AIDS

George Will has a column today marking the 25th anniversary of the first Centers for Disease Control announcement that a new, mysterious, and fatal disease -- HIV -- had entered the United States. Will points out that politicizing illness resulted in increasing the number of deaths:

The U.S. epidemic, which through 2004 had killed 530,000, could have been greatly contained by intense campaigns to modify sexual and drug-use behavior in 25 to 30 neighborhoods from New York and Miami to San Francisco. But early in the American epidemic, political values impeded public health requirements. Unhelpful messages were sent by slogans designed to democratize the disease -- "AIDS does not discriminate" and "AIDS is an equal opportunity disease."

By 1987, when President Ronald Reagan gave his first speech on the subject, 20,798 Americans had died, and his speech, not surprisingly, did not mention any connection to the gay community. 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.


It is sadly ironic that concerns that the association of HIV with homosexuals would lead to violations of their civil rights resulted in policies and rhetoric that escalated the loss of the most basic human right -- that of life.

Will also points out that while the vast majority of victims of HIV in the United States have been homosexuals, in Africa it is mostly a heterosexual disease. While the loss of life remains too high everywhere, its fatality rate is decreasing -- partly due to medical advances, partly due to social changes. However, those improved outcomes raise the possibility that at risk populations could become more careless.

I would add that the failure of private groups in the west to care about the enormous loss of life in Africa (up to 1/4 of the population is infected) should embarrass us. The Irish rocker Bono has been one of the few public figures trying to drive interest in alleviating the calamity there.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How very very sad that Will -- and you -- say that the politicization of AIDS was only among the gay activist crowd.

By 1984, thousands had died of AIDS. But it was a "gay disease" in the eyes of the Reaganauts and not worthy of the research funding that, say, Legionnaires Disease was.

See, because (and Will's column actually STILL hits this theme) if you got AIDS, it was your own damn fault for your deviant lifestyle.

2:55 PM  
Blogger MCO said...

I believe that my post expressed compassion for homosexuals who died of AIDS, and I lamented that homosexuals died of the disease. Thus, I don't think that either Will or I can be accused of bashing the victims. My post, quoting Will, also points out that Reagan used euphemisms to keep from identifying it as a gay disease.

While I would not use language that blames the victim (saying, in your words, "it was your own ... fault"), I am forced to point out that people who engaged in risky behavior (homosexual sex and sharing needles) paid a terrible price for having done so. Leaving aside your argument that other groups politicized the issue, as well, I would only say that those who prevented educational efforts from being directed forcefully and directly to the gay community caused more harm than good.

9:27 PM  

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