Tags: Silent | Slaughter

Silent Slaughter

Tuesday, 10 June 2003 12:00 AM

Back in the 1980s, when most of the dead (about 350,000 of them) were still alive, I interviewed Don Francis, an immunologist and epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control, who was a generally recognized hero of the battle against AIDS.

Francis had been the CDC official in charge of the battle against the Hepatitis B epidemic in the 1970s. I asked him how epidemics are fought. He said that there was really only one way to fight an epidemic, which was to identify the carriers of the infection and to separate them from those in their path. How to manage this separation, he said – whether by quarantine, education or other methods – was a political question.

I then asked him whether testing was important in this process. He said it depends on whether the symptoms manifest themselves on the body’s surface, particularly the face of the victim immediately, or whether they are they are latent and difficult to detect when the infection is present.

With the HIV virus a person can be a carrier for a decade without symptoms. It seemed obvious that mandatory testing would be a hugely important factor in any effort to contain the AIDS epidemic, yet at the time there was no testing and in fact the opposition to it was fierce.

Opponents of testing, which included the entire leadership of the gay community and the Democratic Party, maintained that tests could not be kept confidential and that AIDS carriers would thus become the targets of persecution.

I asked Francis if this were a reasonable fear. He said, “We have been studying gay diseases since before Stonewall [the demonstration that launched the gay liberation movement] and I don’t know of a single case of breach of confidentiality.”

I asked him when there would be mandatory testing in the United States. He answered, “When enough people are dead.” [1]

Apparently, 468,000 dead are not enough.

There are still no federal laws requiring testing for the AIDS virus or reporting of AIDS infections. There is no move to close public infection sites like bathhouses and sex clubs.

The state of California, which has the second-most-cumulative AIDS infections in the country (124,000), publishes a “Brief Guide to California’s HIV/AIDS Laws, 2002,” which is posted on the Internet.” [2] The very first section of the Guide is titled “Voluntary HIV Testing.” It begins: “For most individuals outside the criminal justice system, the decision to test for HIV is a voluntary one.”

The very next section is titled “Prohibitions Against Mandatory Testing” and informs citizens that the “Health and Safety Code Section 120980 prohibits HIV testing to determine suitability for employment … and …insurance.” State laws also prevent doctors and medical workers who perform the voluntary tests from reporting the names of individuals to public health authorities.

There is thus no contact tracing to inform sexual partners of the person infected that they may have contracted the virus as well. In other words, the AIDS virus is protected by law so that it can pursue its silent course through the body of the nation, affecting tens of thousands of individuals who do not know they have it (by some estimates half of those infected) and who are putting others in danger through contact.

On June 4, the Seattle Times reported that new AIDS cases had nearly doubled in the last year and are expected to increase by another 60 percent this year. “It’s the most dramatic increase since the beginning of the epidemic,” the Times quoted Dr. Bob Wood, director of AIDS Control for the Public Health Department in Seattle’s King County.

“One of the most important things you can do in HIV prevention is make sure people know if they are positive or negative,” Wood said. “Studies show that people make major changes in behavior when they learn their status.”

Well, yes.

How did this state of affairs come to pass? How have 468,000 young Americans been allowed to die without being protected by public health authorities? Without the government intervening to deploy the most basic measure that could save them? How have both political parties remained silent or collusive in this dereliction of duty?

How can the media have ignored – as they have – a policy decision that has meant serious illness and death for so many people? How can reporters have ignored a story about the needless suffering and deaths of hundreds of thousands of people whom proven and established health methods might have saved?

Why has there been no interrogation of the special interests responsible for derailing the health system, specifically AIDS groups that have benefited by receiving most of the government AIDS funds, billions upon billions of dollars, allocated to “fight” the epidemic but in fact consumed in ministering to its hapless victims?

The answer is, on the one hand, that Democrats had so surrendered to the ideology of victimization that they were unable to withstand the pressures of the AIDS activists, whose self-destructive political correctness won the day. It was convenient for the Democrats not to insist on hard choices for the stricken community but instead to allow AIDS activists to blame Ronald Reagan and Republican “homophobia” for the epidemic.

It was good politics to ignore the reality– the epidemic was fed by a determination to disregard public health risks once the virus was discovered and to continue sexual practices that were (and are) reckless in the circumstances.

Republicans understood the policy issue but were too cowardly to confront it. One of the sources of the cowardice is a continuing affliction of the party, which is its lack of clarity on the issue of homosexuality itself.

If Republicans were clear that their task as a political party is not to manage private morality, they could have responded to the crisis of a vulnerable community whose leaders have betrayed it. Compassion for the victims of the epidemic, whose government has failed to protect them, should have inspired Republicans to support the public health measures that have been discarded. But so far it hasn’t.

Republicans and Democrats alike should consider the implications of what has happened. The very activists who assaulted and undermined the public health system are currently mounting new assaults on traditional institutions that are vital to the health of America’s communities. Holding them to account for the damage they have already done would be a first step in stopping them from doing more.

[1] Horowitz, “A Radical Holocaust,” in “The Politics of Bad Faith,” 1998, p. 199n28

[2] http://www.dhs.cahwnet.gov/ps/ooa/Reports/aidslaws/pdf/AIDSLaws2002.pdf

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Back in the 1980s, when most of the dead (about 350,000 of them) were still alive, I interviewed Don Francis, an immunologist and epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control, who was a generally recognized hero of the battle against AIDS. Francis had been the CDC...
Tuesday, 10 June 2003 12:00 AM
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