AIDS epidemic may be growing

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 26, 2003

New research suggests that after a decade of relative containment, the AIDS epidemic may be growing again in the United States. Worse, public health officials worry that human behavior is to blame.

Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s AIDS division, says that the incidence of new HIV infections diagnosed among gay men climbed 14 percent between 1999 and 2001, compared with the 8 percent increase among the overall U.S. population. …

Studies have identified two behavioral factors. One is the use of Internet chat rooms that promote high-risk sexual encounters. …

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The Bush administration’s commendable proposal to spend billions more than previously budgeted to fight AIDS in Africa and elsewhere would seem to have little chance of success without a significant campaign to influence behavior. Money devoted only to abstinence promotion won’t be any more effective in Nigeria than in New Jersey. The administration should change its emphasis from persistent warnings about the shortcomings of condoms to acknowledgment of the critical role they can play in preventing the spread of disease.

Health officials hope the nation’s 1 percent increase last year in diagnosed AIDS cases is a short-term aberration. Unfortunately, reckless behavior seems here to stay. Government never can cure that, but the right kind of education could help.

– The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post