AIDS Is "Forgotten Epidemic," Koop Says
November 19, 2010
The surgeon general who confronted Americans with frank talk about HIV in the early days of the AIDS epidemic now delivers a different but no less urgent message.
"Simply put, HIV is no longer on the public's radar screen, and the result is deadly serious," Dr. C. Everett Koop, 95, said Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington. Koop warned that a "growing complacency" around HIV is just as dangerous as the irrational fears he fought from the surgeon general's bully pulpit a quarter-century ago. Koop was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, the year the first AIDS cases were documented.
Now, as then, Americans are less informed than they need to be about the disease, Koop said.
History has vindicated his no-holds-barred approach to communicating about HIV, Koop said. The spread of the disease began to abate as Americans took to heart his two major themes, that the risk of infection increases with the number of sexual partners, and that, next to abstinence, the best protection against HIV is condoms.
"What was the lesson here? If you tell people the truth, in a very factual way, they will act. When it comes to bad news or controversial issues, Americans want to hear it straight," Koop said.
Koop noted how HIV has evolved from a predominantly white, middle-class gay epidemic a generation ago to affect a growing number of African Americans and Hispanics. At the same time, he expressed concern that gay men coming of age now have "moved from adolescence into adulthood totally untaught" about HIV.
Koop previewed the message he will deliver Friday to the National Summit on HIV Diagnosis, Prevention and Access to Care, where he will be recognized for his achievements.
"I occasionally get birthday cards that say, "Never, never, never, never give up. That's my message," Koop said.
11.18.2010; David Brown
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