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Setbacks in the AIDS War

August 09, 2003

There are ominous signs of a stall in the war on AIDS. Recent sobering statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed the first U.S. increase in acquired immune deficiency syndrome cases in a decade and a disturbing jump in HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men. And now, college campuses for the first time are appearing as high-transmission areas for HIV, according to a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill study. These worrisome developments can be attributed, in part, to treatment failures and a complacency that leads to riskier sexual behavior.

The disease has struck African American and Latino men and women especially hard; statistics show they suffer 69% of all new HIV infections. Black and Latino communities, which already often lack adequate health care, face a compound threat from HIV, with men not only infecting each other but also wives and girlfriends unaware of their partners' risky sexual activity or drug use.

AIDS awareness and prevention programs have proved effective in curbing the disease to a point. These efforts demand unceasing engagement by not just health officials but also individual physicians, churches and community groups whose members, particularly in minority communities, often must overcome stigmas about homosexuality. Governments also must take a role, providing necessary anti-AIDS funding; budget deficits have led some states to turn away the uninsured from HIV drug treatments.

Testing for human immunodeficiency virus plays a crucial role in curtailing the harm of AIDS. The test, which can produce results in minutes, should become as routine as the TB exam. It should be ubiquitous too. Give it at places where men gather, especially if they might engage in unsafe sex there; the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, as part of a study, offered HIV tests at gay bathhouses, giving AIDS and prevention information to individuals at great risk. Such efforts are crucial because many of the 800,000 to 900,000 HIV-positive Americans are unaware they are infected.

Ultimately, individual responsibility is key to HIV prevention. Unsafe sex is all too prevalent not just among gays but also heterosexuals. Teenagers and collegians, in particular, act with astonishing obliviousness to the grave risk, not just for contracting HIV but also other venereal diseases.

The rise in AIDS cases offers a sharp reminder that there is no cure; only fools get complacent, believing AIDS can be managed, as in the ridiculous drug company ads with healthy, attractive models. AIDS killed 16,371 Americans last year. That's tragic considering that this disease is preventable. Clearly, the campaign to halt its ravages needs a new jump-start.

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