New chairman of AIDS council will oversee a 'different mission' Dr. Richard Johnson heads AIDS council.

June 14, 1991|By Sue Miller | Sue Miller,Evening Sun Staff

Dr. Richard T. Johnson, a neuroscientist whose research has uncovered disorders of AIDS in the brain, promises to bring an extra dimension to the chairmanship of the new Governor's Council on HIV Prevention and Treatment.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes AIDS.

The new council will have a leader who has an intimate knowledge of the biology of acquired immune deficiency syndrome -- one who knows how it is transmitted, how the virus works and what the legitimate concerns are.

The Schaefer administration announced yesterday that Johnson would head the new panel.

The panel, which Gov. William Donald Schaefer says will have a "different membership and mission," replaces the AIDS Advisory Council, which the governor disbanded this week.

"He [Johnson] is involved with clinical care of AIDS patients and he's a very respected person in the field of neurology, neurovirology and AIDS," Dr. John G. Bartlett, who is director of AIDS patient care for the Johns Hopkins Health System, said last night.

"I don't think there is any question that he is one of the nation's leaders in this disease. He was studying viral infections of the central nervous system before AIDS even existed. He's a very talented guy," said Bartlett.

Dr. Edward N. Brandt Jr., former president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, was the council's first chairman. Although he was a physician, he was never involved with AIDS patient care or oriented toward AIDS patient care issues, colleagues say.

Brandt and former Sen. Daniel B. Brewster, the second chairman, were seen as politicians who used those skills to move the council forward for almost four years beginning in May 1987.

Bartlett is one of about 22 members of the former council that Schaefer abruptly disbanded because he feels that "new energy and new thinking" are needed, according to Paul Schurick, the governor's executive assistant.

Former council members were told of the governor's decision in letters mailed to them this week.

Expanding on what Schaefer sees as specific needs, Schurick said, "The governor feels that the state's role and its response to the virus needs some new direction.

"The council will have an emphasis on education and prevention, developing partnerships with local and federal governments to address funding and treatment problems and will work with the private sector to deal with employee issues."

The new chairman is "full of ideas and full of energy," Schurick said. Johnson, who heads the department of neurology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, agreed to take the job Wednesday night before he left the country.

"He has many ideas of his own on membership. Soon he will propose a list of potential members to the governor, who will make the appointments," Schurick said.

No AIDS service provider groups -- like HERO or the Chase-Brexton Clinic -- were represented on the former council and Andrew A. Barasda, the executive director of the Health, Education and Resources Organization (HERO), thinks that's a mistake.

"Service provider groups have first-hand knowledge of AIDS patients' problems and I definitely think one service provider in Maryland should be represented on the council," he said. "In addition, there should be several people with AIDS on the council and even significant others -- such as family members of those who have died who can give still another perspective of AIDS."

Members of the former council "were committed people and they really understood HIV disease, but the reality was that the council was not as broad-based as it could have been," he said.

Barasda said he hopes the new council will have "clout and authority" with Schaefer, who had not always been receptive to the former council's recommendations.

ACT-UP Baltimore, which stands for AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, has been monitoring the former council's meetings, but did not have a voice on it.

"I hope the governor will begin to be more responsive to the communities that are directly affected by AIDS and that he puts community activists from the black and gay and lesbian community on his council," said John Stuban, ACT-UP's founder.

"Those are the people who really know what's going on and have experience in both educating and fighting the ignorance that surrounds AIDS."

Stuban hopes the governor is realistic about sexual activity in teen-agers and young people and approaches it by trying to teach them safer sex practices as opposed to trying to teach them abstinence, "which is totally unrealistic and absurd."

ACT-UP would be very happy to sit on the new council, Stuban said.

"One of the biggest problems has been that while the [old] council had a lot of members who were very capable and skilled about AIDS, it also had a lot of members who were uneducated about AIDS but were there for political reasons," he said. "Because of this, the council often got bogged down."

One of the first things the new council should do is call for an evaluation of all AIDS services in Maryland, Stuban said, to assess a real awareness of what the situation is, what is being done and what the needs are.

But, Bartlett stressed the top item on the council's agenda should be adequate provision of patient care, especially since a study of care in Maryland showed there is a major segment of the population that is not getting care.

"That's my ax to grind and that's what I worry about because I'm in the middle of AIDS care," he said. "I agree that prevention is important, but nobody in the country has figured it out. A lot of other people, however, have figured out better or novel methods of care. And, that's what we should be concentrating on."

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