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To Cure AIDS, We Must First Cure America's Ignorance

Guest Column by Brooks Mendell

A doctor walks into a bar. He claims to know the three easy steps to cure cancer. "Step 1," says the doctor, "is isolate the microbe."

With AIDS, the knowledge needed to "isolate the microbe" exists. The knowledge that AIDS rides the waves of unprotected sex and dirty needles belongs in the classroom, bedroom, and living room.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration has dragged its feet on the AIDS crisis, interfering with the Centers for Disease Control in their efforts to spread safe-sex information, and opposing the distribution of clean needles on the grounds that "needle programs promote drug abuse."

Two years ago, New Haven started a clean needle program. Four times a week, a brightly painted van worked the streets, giving survival kits of bleach, water, clean needles, and condoms to drug users in exchange for dirty needles.

Independent researchers found a 33 percent drop in new infections during the first six months of the program. New Haven has experienced a 20 percent decrease in crime in the last two years. What's more, the increased contact between addicts and health workers facilitated over two hundred referrals to drug-treatment programs.

What is the problem? Ignorance. New Haven Mayor John Daniels, at first opposed to the clean needle program, became a supporter after visiting AIDS-infected newborns in the city's hospital. Now, he says "if giving needles saves a life, I support it. If giving a youngster a condom prevents AIDS or a baby with AIDS, I support it."

A comprehensive AIDS education program teaches the values of abstinence, safe sex, and remaining drug-free. A comprehensive AIDS prevention program provides condoms, clean needles, and counseling. As of June 1991, over 10 million people worldwide were HIV-positive. The World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2000, 40 million people will be infected. In 1990, the AIDS virus killed over 24,000 people, 13 percent more than in 1989. Half a million children now have AIDS.

The continuing spread of AIDS in the United States shames the Bush administration. When will the government sponsor a vigorous, pro-active prevention and education program?

Brooks Mendell is a senior in the Department of Political Science.