Real AIDS prevention

March 07, 1991

Something is certainly wrong with our public health system when AIDS leaps ahead of all other tragedies and maladies to become the No. 1 killer of Baltimore's young adults.

City Health Department statistics show that in 1989, AIDS accounted for more deaths among residents 25 to 44 than homicides, heart attacks or cancer. Equally startling is that the virus has finally crossed race and gender lines; it is now the leading cause of death among blacks and whites, men and women.

Two things are obvious from these statistics. One is that AIDS is going to cost the city and the state a lot of money. The other is that the city needs to undertake a widespread public education program focusing on teen-agers. The AIDS virus takes 11 years, on average, to cause the full-blown disease. That means many of today's victims could have been spared had they been taught, as teens, how to avoid giving and getting the virus.

Unfortunately, the controversy over sex education has derailed many efforts to give teen-agers access to condoms and information about which forms of sexual activity are most dangerous. At that point, the argument was only about morality. In light of the new statistics, however, the debate takes on another dimension: It is no longer merely about sex, but about survival.

The growing numbers of young people dying from AIDS ought to be evidence enough of the need for a comprehensive sex education program for teen-agers. Abstinence should be encouraged, certainly. But so should condom use -- to the extent, if necessary, of making condoms available through the schools, as New York City is now doing. Some political and religious leaders will almost certainly protest. Nonetheless, it's time to put the emphasis for prevention of AIDS where it belongs.

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