Archive for July 2002

Frogs In Our Midst

Jonah Goldberg on why the French suck.

Act Up? Oh Shut Up

Act Up - Harrassment = Media Circus

At the 14th Annual AIDS Conference in Barcelona Spain ACT UP members rushed the stage and prevented US Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson from speaking. The protesters shouted slogans, blew whistles and in general made as much noise as they could as half the auditorium clapped in support. After the demonstration, ACT UP gave an impromptu press conference in which members complained about American unwillingness to provide more money to fight AIDS. One ACT UP activist from New York, speaking about the growing number of AIDS cases in the US and the rest of the world, said that “the US was responsible for their deaths”. A Swedish conference participant spoke in support of the protesters, saying that the US government deserved the treatment. Even economist Jeffrey Sachs – a former advisor to the Kremlin on the Russian economy and now an advisor on development to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – said that Thompson should have expected such a protest considering that government policy on AIDS was “a reflection of utter confusion within the United States government”.

First off the American government is not responsible for AIDS. In a completely libertarian sense it isn’t responsible for the treatment of its citizens who catch it either – let alone the rest of the world which doesn’t pay American taxes and rewards American humanitarian relief with “Blackhawk Down”. American society isn’t completely libertarian just yet and so the government does support medical research on diseases such as AIDS, much . According to the protesters, “Norway contributes 25 times as much per citizen, Sweden seven times and Rwanda 10 times as much (as a percentage of gross domestic product) as the United States does”. But such comparisons can be dubious, since Norway also spends much more per capita on salted fish, and doesn’t shoulder a defense budget of half a trillion dollars. A more apt comparison would be to look at the funding compared to other diseases within the USA.

It should be noted that the money the US government spends on AIDS research doesn’t just stay in the country. Most of the research that the government funds will make its way abroad through papers appearing in journals and presented at conferences.

A Porsche 911 for AIDS, a 10 speed for Prostate Cancer

According to a chart from the National Institute of Health (which can be viewed in its entirety here), the NIH will spend an estimated $3.6 billion on AIDS related research for the current fiscal year, rising to $4 billion in FY 2003. In comparison the NIH will spend $360 million on prostate cancer this year, rising to $400 million in FY 2003.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 31,000 men died of prostate cancer in 2000, and every year 2.3 million men are diagnosed with the disease. In contrast, 14,802 people died of AIDS in 1999 while only 45,000 were diagnosed with the disease that year. If we use the money figures for FY 2002 and the number of new diagnoses just mentioned we find that the NIH spends $157 on each new prostate cancer diagnosis versus $80,000 on each new AIDS diagnosis. Or let’s put it another way. Divide the money by the deaths and the US government spends $243,210 trying (and failing) to prevent each AIDS death – while only spending $11,613 attempting to save the life of a man who dies from prostate cancer. Sources: CDC: Table 53. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) cases, according to age at diagnosis, sex, detailed race, and Hispanic origin: United States, selected years 1985-2000. HIV Fastfacts. Prostate Disease Fastfacts. Gary S. Becker of The Hoover Institute pointed out in an article appearing in the April 19, 1999 issue of Businessweek: “Research on AIDS has been much more generously funded by the federal government during the past decade than has research on breast and prostate cancer and other diseases that kill many more people.”

One could in fact argue that the federal government is caving in to intimidation at the expense of research in diseases that affect more people yet lack the theatrical antics of a misguided yet trendy advocacy group. It’s unfortunate given the fact that every man – straight or gay, monogamous or polyamorous will eventually face prostate cancer should he be lucky to live long enough. A man can avoid catching AIDS. He can’t avoid prostate cancer.

There is no excuse for anyone in the modern world to have unprotected sex. The only new AIDS cases should be newborns of women infected with HIV and rape victims. The gay community has lived with HIV for 20 years; it’s not the government’s job to be in the business of cleaning up the mess that results when someone ignores public health warnings. And this goes for those who smoke cigarettes then sue the cigarette makers.

This is not an attack on being gay: far from it. It is a slap in the face of ACT UP to wake up. Gay advocates must recognize that with freedom brings responsibility, and that one cannot make a decent life while living in a porno movie. Lifestyle changes have to be made. If that means prizing monogamy over anonymous sex, and safe sex over hyper-sex than so be it.

The track record of the gay community has been poor on working to contain the spread of AIDS. After all it was the gay rights movement that fought the closure of bathhouses in the Castro during the early ‘80s – viewing any attempt at containing the epidemic in the as an infringement on the gay lifestyle.

ACT UP and other gay-rights groups should return to spreading the message about safe sex and monogamy. Such tactics were instrumental at halting the spread of the disease during the late 80’s and early 90’s. Screaming down government bureaucrats may seem clever, but it will do nothing for their obscenely over-funded cause.