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AIDS: education, testing continued.

AIDS: Education, testing continued

With October officially designated AIDS Awareness and Prevention Month, the federal government has launched its massive education campaign called "America Responds to AIDS.' The goal is to "blanket the nation with accurate AIDS information,' according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week. While the education effort presses on, so do AIDS research and politics.

Despite the justifiable fear of AIDS, the overall prevalence of infection in the general population remains low. This, say scientists at Harvard University, makes the controversial concept of mandatory premarital screening for the AIDS virus "a relatively ineffective and inefficient use of resources.' Reporting in the Oct. 2 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, the researchers estimate the number of people who would have to be tested under such a program, as well as the number of infections that might be prevented.

They conclude that if mandatory premarital screening were in place with currently available tests--which can yield both false positives and false negatives--the program would detect fewer than 0.1 percent of infected individuals and cost "substantially more' than $100 million annually. They also say that mandatory premarital screening for syphilis--begun in the mid-1930s and cited to by those supporting an AIDS program-- has been "judged to be ineffective and unnecessary.' Voluntary testing, education and counseling are the best ways to stop AIDS in low-prevalence populations, say the scientists.

Impatient with the federal process used to evaluate new drugs for use in AIDS patients, the State of California has decided to create its own system for testing AIDS drugs. Last week, the state legislature approved the plan, which officials there said would be based on the process followed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but would provide quicker results. The FDA announced in March that certain investigational drugs--including those for AIDS--might be used in patients without passing through the time-consuming channels normally needed for approval (SN: 3/21/87, p. 189).

More public funding will be flowing to groups engaged in AIDS research, with the recent announcement that under so-called cooperative agreements the federal government has awarded $10 million to 11 research groups across the United States. The cooperative agreements differ from the standard funding process of contracts and grants by allowing the group receiving the funds to manage the research, and the government to coordinate exchange of information among the scientists involved. Administered by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., the National Cooperative Drug Discovery Group Program was created in 1986 to encourage joint AIDS research by academic and industrial partners. With the latest award, expected funding for the program through 1992 totals $68 million.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 10, 1987
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