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Spite in the AIDS Battle

May 03, 1987

Two members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors have blocked a $20,000 federally funded AIDS education program targeted at the black community in an action that can be seen only as crude political reprisal. With the board operating with only four members, the votes of Mike Antonovich and Pete Schabarum killed the measure, virtually assuring the loss of the funding at a time when the supervisors themselves have been deploring the lack of state and federal funding to help the financially-strapped county meet the challenge of AIDS.

In this case the two supervisors were annoyed by a suit against the county, charging deliberate neglect of the minority community in the official AIDS program, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and, among others, the Rev. Carl Bean, head of the Minority AIDS Project. It was Bean's project that was to receive the federal funding.

The merits of the suit are for the courts to decide. We know of no evidence of malicious or criminal neglect in the AIDS program. But there is no question in our mind that the county supervisors as a whole have been slow to respond to this terrible emergency. Paradoxically, however, this action against the Minority AIDS Project came at the same meeting during which the supervisors unanimously created a 17-member County AIDS Commission--a body that can, with the correct kind of professional membership, help improve the county's response to the disease.

Minority AIDS education is critically important because the disease's spread among blacks and Latinos is expected to increase rapidly in the years ahead unless there is a successful education program. Public health officials report that minority prevention is a more complex and difficult problem than working with the homosexual community, where the great majority of cases has occurred until now, because of cultural barriers and because the population is more widely dispersed. Two supervisors have lost for all the county an important opportunity to get on with that task.

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