THE NEW AIDS COMEBACK: THE POTENTIAL HIDDEN RISKS TO PUBLIC HEALTH
When I was working for the federal government in the 1990s, employees had to attend a mandatory AIDS-awareness seminar. It focused mainly on nondiscrimination and on dispelling the notion that one could get AIDS from casual contact, including toilet seats used by HIV-infected persons.
Most people already knew that. Nor did I hear reports of any employees discriminating gays or workers known to have tested positive for HIV. So it was basically political indoctrination. What most people were worried about was the opportunistic diseases that beset HIV-infected persons - some of them, like tuberculosis, which have become drug-resistant and also making a comeback. But that issue somehow never came up.
HIV-infected individuals, with their compromised immune systems, have a difficult time throwing off fairly common diseases like pneumonia. The new strains that are emerging are said to be the result of over-prescribing antibiotics to otherwise healthy individuals, but is that all? The aggressive new medical cocktails required to treat HIV-infected people are like the elephant in the living room that nobody wants to talk about, least of all the medical profession and experts at the Center for Disease Control - or teachers and health officials in America's schools.
But with the latest AP-Ipsos poll results, showing AIDS statistics up again, the topic should be front and center.
Despite the pervasiveness of K-12 sex education, not to mention all manner of information purveyed in public service announcements, including in shows catering to children, health officials are reporting that AIDS is making a resurgence and that the safe-sex messages are not being taken seriously, even by young homosexual males, who are most at risk.
HIV infection and AIDS started their upward swing last year, after having been somewhat in decline over the past decade. "Revolutionary new drugs allow people to live longer with the disease, and young homosexuals have no memories of the early days of the sexually transmitted disease two decades ago, when the virus was widely viewed as an automatic death sentence," according to Associated Press article in the Washington Times on July 26, 2004.
Citing an AP-Ipsos poll of 1,002 adults taken July 19-21, the story in the Washington Times report stated that health officials are worried that a certain complacency is spreading across the spectrum - save for one segment of the population in particular, parents. Only two in 10 polled said they were concerned they personally would become infected with HIV, but more than half, 51 percent, said they were worried that their child could be infected. Even four in 10 of those with no children at all said they worried about the kids.
The AP article quoted Dr. Jim Curran, "dean of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and a longtime veteran of AIDS-prevention efforts," as saying that the recent increase in AIDS diagnoses was a bad omen. He, like other experts over the past year, has postulated that improved medications are making gay men, in particular, less careful. Many of those, who are bisexual, then spread the disease to their heterosexual wives and partners.
Pressure to have sex at ever-younger ages, frequently at the behest of much-older men, is complicating the problem. Schools are complicit in the oversexualizing of young people by failing to encourage modest dress and emphasizing the mechanics of sex over the emotional component in "health" classes. America's classrooms promote orgasms and lubricants over affection and commitment. That is not responsible sex education. It is detrimental to society as well as to the emotional and physical health of children.
It certainly is not helping the cause of AIDS eradication.
In a sign of the times, a majority in the AP-Ipsos poll, 55 percent, still maintained that teaching safe sex should be the focus of AIDS-prevention efforts, rather than promoting abstinence. Even so, the poll indicated, however indirectly, that most Americans are aware AIDS is a preventable disease caused by deliberate, risky behavior because their top research-spending priority was cancer, not AIDS. Alzheimer's and heart disease tied for "a distant second place" along with AIDS.
It's time for the medical community to come clean about just what the risks are to public health from AIDS if officials are going to label it as such. If AIDS is confined to particular behaviors on the part of some people, then it should not be categorized as a public health problem. If, on the other hand, there are risks to the health of persons not indulging in the conduct in question, that is a different matter.
Alcohol frequently is deemed a public health problem, for example, because a drunk may drive and cause accidents, or a woman drinks while pregnant, causing damage to the fetus. Yes, that affects the health of the innocent accident victim or hapless fetus, but the consumption of beer or wine or a cocktail per se is not a public health issue. Thomas Sowell noted in a commentary that obesity can result from eating too much junk food, but thousands of people eat junk food and are not obese. So, obesity is not a public health issue, either. It is not communicable or even pervasive. Ditto anorexia and bulimia, the eating disorders du jour. These ailments may reflect bad judgment aboutweight loss, but they do not equate to epidemics.
Outbreaks of typhoid, polio, malaria and Lyme disease, on the other hand, are public health issues because there is little the individual can do on his own to eradicate or inhibit them, and exposure is not the result of personal conduct.
Diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis are coming back stronger than ever, and immune-system-compromised individuals may be helping to spread them if, in fact, they cannot be cured of these ailments. The cavalier attitude toward high-risk sexual behaviors, generated as a result of drugs that enable AIDS sufferers to remain functional and live longer, is not a mentality we want transmitted to our young people.
Seen in that light, parents are right to be
worried about the AIDS comeback.
© 2004 Beverly Eakman - All Rights
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Beverly Eakman is an Educator, 9 years: 1968-1974, 1979-1981. Specialties: English and Literature.
Science Editor, Technical Writer and Editor-in-Chief of official newspaper, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1974-1979. Technical piece, "David, the Bubble Baby," picked up by popular press and turned into a movie starring John Travolta.
Chief speech writer, National Council for Better Education, 1984-1986; for the late Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Commission on the Bicentennial of the US Constitution, 1986-1987; for the Voice of America Director, 1987-1989; and for U.S. Department of Justice, Gerald R. Regier, 1991-1993.
Author: 3 books on education and data-trafficking
since 1991, including the internationally acclaimed Cloning
of the American Mind: Eradicating Morality Through Education. Executive
Director, National Education Consortium. Website: BeverlyE.com
It's time for the medical community to come clean about just what the risks are to public health from AIDS