My Love/Hate Opinion of the CDC

August 3, 2008 § Leave a comment

I’m sure most of you have heard about this by now: H.I.V. Study Finds Rate 40% Higher Than Estimated.

I’m very interested in all things AIDS in part because I wrote my undergrad senior thesis on it.  My argument was that HIV/AIDS public health policy was developed more because of the fact that AIDS hit in the 80s in the recent memory of Civil Rights and other social movements, and less because it was actually an effective strategy for preventing and controlling HIV/AIDS infections.

American HIV/AIDS policy is special.  It is unlike the policy controlling every other STD or infectious disease.  Most states do not even classify HIV/AIDS as an STD or infectious disease so that it can have its own, unique policy.  This policy is based on privacy and civil rights, which were pretty important back in the 80s when AIDS was a “gay disease” and getting infected set you up for serious discrimination.   But, as a result of all the measures to protect people’s privacy and civil rights, alot of time-tested public health measures cannot be used to fight HIV/AIDS.  There is a debate about whether these more traditional measures would be effective on HIV/AIDS because the infection itself is so “unique.”  But I do not think so.  I think HIV/AIDS is unique because of its effect on the gay community and the ensuing Civil Rights issues.  HIV/AIDS was special because of social reasons, not medical reasons.  Randy Shilts, author of And The Band Played On, claims that part of the reason HIV/AIDS was so mysterious to the medical community was simply because the medical community simply wasn’t that interested in researching a “gay” disease.

The other thing that stunted medical research on HIV/AIDS (besides prejudice) was the long review periods required of medical journals.  This newest finding was known since OCTOBER of last year, but kept under wraps so that it could be published in peer-reviewed medical journals, which have a long review period before publication.  Back in the 80s, the few people doing research on HIV/AIDS were perpetually unaware of what one another was doing or discovering, and that lack of information slowed everything down.

Right, so the CDC.  The CDC screwed up by not releasing this earlier.  And they, overall, have not done enough.  But I can’t blame the CDC wholeheartedly, because really, it’s not their fault.

The CDC does not have enough funding, and President Bush has been shrinking their HIV/AIDS budget.

The CDC tried as hard as it could to cede to the privacy and Civil Rights concerns of the interest groups and lobbyists 80s, trying to find a good balance.

In recent years, the CDC has proposed a new way of fighting HIV/AIDS – with mandatory HIV testing for EVERYONE.  This would have been an unthinkable Civil Rights violation in the 80s, but the CDC argues that today the atmosphere has changed, and AIDS is no longer such a stigmatized disease.  They believe we are ready for serious public health measures, like mandatory testing.

I agree.  The one way to make something less stigmatized is to make it everybody’s problem.  AIDS is everyone’s problem.   All of us who haven’t encountered it personally (yet) are just lucky.  Having untested and uneducated people out there in the sexual rotation is a threat to everyone, including yourself and the people you love.

I wish the CDC would stop worrying about peer-reviewed journals and get their data out quicker.  But, overall, I admire their stance.

Give the CDC a break, and let them do their job.  It’s time to take a new stance on HIV/AIDS.  Let mandatory testing happen!

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