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Politics, science, people ... and AIDS.

Politics, Science, People . . . and AIDS

Some opening comments at the ThirdInternational Conference on AIDS this week were met with jeers, others with a standing ovation. There were words of doom and words of hope. And there was a mix of emotions, people and papers perhaps never before seen at a scientific meeting--as more than 6,350 conference attendees and 850 reporters crowded in Washington, D.C., to hear health and government officials begin the meeting.

Most controversial were statements byVice President George Bush, who called the AIDS virus "an equal opportunity merchant of death.' Bush, echoing statements made the previous day by President Reagan, said the government plans to require mandatory AIDS testing of prisoners, immingrants and aliens seeking residency. Bush pointed out that similar screening is already under way in the military and foreign service. "Reasonable men and women may differ [on the testing issue],' he said. "Ultimately, we must protect the healthy.'

The administration also has decided toencourage states to require mandatory premarital testing for AIDS, according to Bush. He met with more positive audience response when he said the confidential testing program must not turn into a "witch hunt,' and that everyone shares a "common responsibility' to remain understanding and compassionate toward all AIDS victims. Meanwhile, outside the meeting, protesters carrying "AIDSgate' signs rallied against the administration's AIDS policies.

Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, whosupports the use of condoms and sex education to help slow the spread of AIDS, was applauded for his comments calling for courage rather than fear. "[AIDS] is disdainful of age . . . and it spitefully remains a mystery,' he said. "We dare not respond with less than our very best effort.' Part of that effort must be worldwide cooperation in public health, said Koop, pointing out that to date 51,000 cases of AIDS have been reported in 112 countries. And that number, he said, may be only half the actual cases because of incomplete reporting.

Since last year's international AIDSmeeting in Paris, there has been a "global mobilization to combat AIDS,' said Carlyle Guerra de Macedo, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Pan American Health Organization. He said nearly 80 percent of the world's AIDS cases reported thus far have been in the Western hemisphere, with nearly all of those in Brazil, the United States, Canada and Haiti.

It was obvious to all present that sincethe first AIDS case was reported in the United States six years ago this week, battles have been won and lost. "The tabulation of the dead grows longer and longer,' U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Robert E. Windom said during the meeting's opening session. "Looking backward is so easy. It would have been wonderful six years ago if we'd been able to say these [first cases] are enough to prompt a worldwide response.'

Late as it may be, the response hasbeen substantial--at least in terms of dollars. Nearly $1 billion in U.S. federal funds have been spent thus far on AIDS research, patient care, education and prevention, said Windom, adding that the states probably have spent the same amount. Currently, there are more than 36,000 reported cases of AIDS in the United States, and the Public Health Service predicts that number could swell to 250,000 by 1990. (A report released June 3, compiled for the federal government by the RAND Corp. of Santa Monica, Calif., estimates that the nation's medical costs for AIDS from mid-1986 to mid-1991 could exceed $37 billion.)

Yet among the grim statistics "there ismuch to give us hope,' said Lowell T. Harmison, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for health. He calls the isolation and cloning of AIDS viruses, early successes in vaccine research and the introduction of AIDS drugs "major points of achievement.' Still, he says, "we are all at risk, and we must . . . become energized and committed to an urgent solution [for the AIDS problem].'
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Title Annotation:Third International Conference on AIDS
Author:Edwards, Diane D.
Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 6, 1987
Previous Article:New virus, growth factor found for AIDS.
Next Article:Putting a spin into chemistry.

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