Acquired immune deficiency syndrome is an often fatal disease that destroys the human immune system and is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, especially by sexual contact or via contaminated needles. Research has resolved a number of important “first generation” issues concerning the risk of AIDS among injection drug users (IDUs) (Urnovitz & Stevens, 1995). For example, it is clear that many IDUs have changed their behavior — by disinfecting injection equipment, avoiding drug use with strangers, using condoms, and so on. It is also dear that these behavior changes generally reflect a reduction of risk but not its total elimination and that drug-related risk reduction among IDUs has been more extensive than sex-related risk reduction (Epstein, 2007).
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When researchers understood little about the disease, and when its potential spread seemed unbounded, the answer was an obvious no. The only people who asked the question, in fact, were those who deemed the primary victims of HIV, gay men and intravenous drug-users, unworthy of public help. In the years since, the terrain has shifted. Though there’s still no cure, scientific understanding of the virus has gained considerably (National Research Council et al, 1989). Evidence from the screening of military applicants and blood donors suggests that the rate of new HIV infection has been decreasing for several years. Though the number of new cases of AIDS may or may not have peaked already, the disease no longer appears to be out of control. And since this trend emerged, it hasn’t been just kooks wondering why AIDS deserves the biggest chunk of federal health funding (Goldberg & Stricker, 1995).
In numerical terms, AIDS does get a disproportionate share of the government disease dollar. This year about 30,000 Americans will die of AIDS-related illnesses. By comparison, 800,000 will die of heart disease. Yet the Public Health Service will spend $1.3 billion on a cure for AIDS, and only $700 million on cardiac ailments. To some observers this kind of statistical evidence means, as our colleague Charles Krauthammer put it in Time a few weeks ago, that “ AIDS has become the most privileged disease in America.” In this view, a powerful, articulate gay lobby has seized more than its fair share of resources. Michael Fumento, the author of The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, takes this argument a step further, asserting in the October issue of Commentary: “The blunt fact is, then, that a great many people will die of other diseases because of the overemphasis on AIDS” (Fortenberry, 2007).
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