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Misinformation on AIDS

February 05, 1989

The criticism arrayed against an AIDS anti-discrimination ordinance pending before theLos Angeles County Board of Supervisors demonstrated, if there were any lingering doubts, the importance of the new protections. Clearly, misinformation and prejudice are still rife.

In election after election a large majority of the voters of the county and of California have demonstrated understanding of the disease, generally rejecting extreme measures like Proposition 102 in the general election last November. But a small group in the community has continued to encourage prejudice and discrimination--often out of ignorance, sometimes out of hostility to homosexuals and intravenous drug users, two of the groups most affected by the deadly disease.

Some who have challenged the county ordinance have argued that its protections for those with the human immunodeficiency virus in effect would force others to become exposed. Others, including some health-care providers, have asserted that the ordinance would force doctors and nurses to be exposed to the disease.

That is simply not true. The protections afforded under the ordinance would affect work, housing and access to public places--none of which would risk infection to others. HIV is hard to transmit. It can be transmitted only by an exchange of bodily fluids or blood, as in sexual intercourse or a transfusion of contaminated blood or the sharing of intravenous drug needles that carry the infection. All of the responsible professional health-care organizations have affirmed the responsibility of professionals to provide care to those with the virus. The ordinance would do nothing to change that. Furthermore, the established safeguards mandated for health-care workers to guard against accidental infection also are protections against hepatitis, which in fact takes a far greater toll of professionals than the extremely small number who have been infected with HIV through accidental exposure.

Protections against discrimination were recommended by the Presidential Commission on the Human Immunodeficiency Virus Epidemic because they are essential to effective public-health programs. People at risk will not cooperate with prevention programs if they are not provided protection against discrimination. The city of Los Angeles already has in place an even more effective ordinance. Other cities and counties have done the same. The need in Los Angeles County, with the second-highest incidence of the disease in the nation, is the more urgent in the absence of adequate state and federal legislation.

A majority made up of Chairman Ed Edelman, Deane Dana and Kenneth Hahn are supporting this measure before the Board of Supervisors. They are making an important contribution to the effort to control the spread of the disease.

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