Answers for AIDS | Letters | Chicago Reader

Answers for AIDS 

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Justin Hayford's criticism of a solely scientific approach to AIDS has some merits, because it doesn't matter how you save a life ["The Second Epidemic," August 23]. Yet I feel he has made the same error himself. He says that there are ways to prevent AIDS that are being ignored, but to those unskilled in his field, it's easy to miss them. After all, if everyone knows how you get AIDS, what more is there to do? This is an unfair criticism, but one he might have answered by making a solid presentation of the effective prevention programs currently under way. Instead, he devotes his time, just like the people he criticizes at the AIDS conference, to discussing science and scientists--and I believe his criticisms of the science are unfair.

Drug combinations, for instance, make obvious sense: if the first drug stops all but 1 mutant in 1,000 viruses, which is resistant, then you should hit it with a different drug to stop it before it has a chance to reproduce. Nor is the difficulty in devising a vaccine solely a matter of money: after all, the viruses we are normally vaccinated for are diseases which we have a good chance of defeating with our immune systems even without the shot. Particularly annoying is the unfavorable comparison of "profitably commercialized" medicine with the "alternative" treatments: while I'm sure that Glaxo and the acupuncturist both put profit first, only one of the two has to publish its findings and answer to the regulators.

There are many ways in which real progress could be made against AIDS: we could put public health before antidrug "gestures" for once and legalize the public sale of needles; we could see to it that health care becomes more accessible; we could put a limit on the windfall patent profit made by companies for recertifying old anticancer drugs as AIDS therapies, and curb the practice of awarding broad patents that cover not products but technologies which might be used to develop a product; we could demand more than lip service concerning FDA reform; and we could make our city a very hostile place for landlords and others who discriminate against people for having a disease. Researchers and community activists should act together for positive change, rather than allowing artificial limits on all anti-AIDS measures to set them to fighting like ants in a jar.

Note: I am merely a graduate student in genetics; I am not working on HIV, so I don't claim to be authoritative. I think this is just common sense.

Mike Serfas

Chicago

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