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The Times Poll : AIDS Fears Ease While Views Harden

July 16, 1989|ROBERT STEINBROOK | Times Medical Writer

Nearly four-fifths said public health officials should trace the sexual partners of people who have tested positive for HIV infection.

Nearly three-fifths of those interviewed favor mandatory testing of high-risk individuals--a highly charged issue of ethics and personal rights. When the same question was asked two years ago, Americans were sharply divided, with a nearly even percentage favoring mandatory and voluntary testing.

Most public health officials continue to favor voluntary AIDS testing because of fears that mandatory testing might lead to discrimination and breaches of confidentiality. But in recent months federal health officials have strongly encouraged at-risk individuals to be tested so that they can take steps to protect their sexual partners and benefit from medical advances against HIV infection.

There is also increasing support in the medical community for contact tracing measures of sexual partners similar to those already widely used for other sexually transmitted illnesses. The percentage of Americans supporting such tracing rose seven points to 77% since the 1987 poll.

The CDC's Noble said he was "bothered" by the public's increased support for mandatory testing because it may "represent a we/they mentality. . . . That bothers me, because clearly this is a problem for all our society."

Ambivalence Increases

Americans appear less resistant to sacrificing civil liberties to battle the disease. When asked in 1987 whether "some civil liberties must be suspended in the war on AIDS," 42% said yes, 38% said no and 20% were not sure. In the current poll, the percentage favoring a crackdown remained unchanged, but the percentage who said they were opposed decreased by 12 points. The percentage of those who were unsure rose by 10 points.

When given a list of important problems facing the country and asked which deserved more federal spending, AIDS came in third at 24%, behind drug abuse (33%) and the homeless (30%). It was ahead of overall health (20%), crime (16%), the environment (15%) and cancer (14%).

At the time of the 1987 poll, when federal AIDS spending totaled about $900 million a year, 46% of Americans favored spending more money to combat the disease. But this month, with federal AIDS spending at about $2.2 billion a year, only 25% favored greater expenditures. Forty-seven percent say the current level is the "right amount" and 12% advocate less spending.

Americans were also asked if research on AIDS is "taking money away from other important medical research--such as cancer and heart disease?" Of those interviewed, 39% said yes, 48% said no and 13% were not sure.

VIEWS ON AIDS These are results from a Los Angeles Times Poll of 3,583 residents nationwide between July 8 and July 13, as compared to the results of prior Times Polls on AIDS.

DEC.1985 JULY 1987 JULY 1989 AIDS deaths 8,002 22,548 58,014 Annual federal $207 million $899 million $2.2 billion AIDS spending

What disease are you most afraid of getting? In percent: Cancer Dec.1985: 56 July.1987: 40 July 1989: 43 AIDS Dec.1985: 12 July.1987: 30 July 1989: 19 Heart disease Dec.1985: 11 July.1987: 8 July 1989: 14 How much money do you think the federal government should spend on AIDS? In percent: Spending right amount Dec.1985: 47 July.1987: 40 July 1989: 47 Spend more Dec.1985: 32 July.1987: 46 July 1989: 25 Spend less Dec.1985: 12 July.1987: 7 July 1989: 12 How concerned are you about AIDS as a problem for your own personal health?

DEC.1985 JULY 1987 JULY 1989 Concerned 42% 46% 37% Not concerned 57% 53% 63%

How much of an effect would you say AIDS has had in your life style?

DEC. 1985 JULY 1987 JULY 1989 Total change or large impact 6% 18% 13% Small impact or no change 93% 81% 86%

SOURCE: Los Angeles Times Poll

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