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Editorials and Commentary
AIDS Is Not a Death Sentence

December 2, 2002

"Historians will look back on our time and see that our civilization spends many millions of dollars educating people about the scourge of HIV and AIDS. ... But what they will find not so civilized is our failure to treat 95 percent of people with the disease.

"Given that medicine can turn AIDS from a death sentence into a chronic illness and reduce mother-to-child transmission, our withholding of treatment will appear to future historians as medieval, like bloodletting.

"... Some people argue that treatment is less important than prevention; a dollar spent on prevention, they say, goes further in slowing the spread of the disease than a dollar spent on treating someone who already has it. But this is a false choice. Prevention doesn't work unless large numbers of people agree to be tested. They won't agree to be tested if all they will learn is that they are going to die.

"... If we focus on treatment in addition to prevention, several good things would result. More people will stop suffering in silence and be willing to get tested for HIV if we offer treatment. ... People who have the disease will live longer, healthier lives. ...

"... With a new generation coming of age every few years, the need for AIDS education remains high, and no amount of mass marketing can match the power of one-to-one advice -- the kind that can be provided by the trained professionals at clinics where AIDS testing and treatment occur. ...

"... The more that people understand that AIDS is not only a preventable disease but a treatable one, the less likely they will shun those who have it. ...

"Can treatment work? It has in Brazil, where virtually all AIDS patients are given access to life-saving, generic drugs manufactured in that country. ... Brazil's death rate from AIDS and related illnesses is down 50 percent, and the infection rate is low and getting lower. ...

"More must be done by governments ... especially in answering the call of Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, for $10 billion to fight AIDS worldwide. Governments must also push pharmaceutical companies to make good on their commitments to provide drugs at discount prices or to stop trying to block the purchase of generic drugs by poor countries. ...

"... Now that we have the medical capacity to save and improve the lives of millions of people, there is no other moral or practical choice."

The author was the 42nd U.S. president.

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Excerpted from:
New York Times
12.01.02; William Jefferson Clinton

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