One of the most serious and imminent crises facing the United States today is AIDS, the deadly disease that threatens to become a "catastrophe," according to the National Academy of Sciences.
The numbers are stark and unarguable. The Public Health Service has already projected that there will be a total of 179,000 more deaths from AIDS in this country by 1991. Frank Press, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, said last week that by 1990, more Americans will die from AIDS each year than were killed in the Vietnam war--some 58,000 people. So far, AIDS has struck more than 26,000 Americans, more than half of whom have died.
The National Academy and its Institute of Medicine were absolutely accurate last week in describing government efforts against AIDS to date as woefully inadequate. They called for "presidential leadership" in the fight and a large increase in funding for education and for medical research to develop a vaccine and a cure for AIDS.
At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, education is the only tool available to reduce the spread of this disease. But AIDS is a venereal disease, and most of its victims in this country have been homosexual men. The combination of sexuality and homosexuality have made most public officials from the President down very reluctant to say much. Compare President Ford's reaction a decade ago to Legionnaire's disease, whose victims were counted in the dozens.