New AIDS strategies

June 17, 1991

Governor Schaefer's decision to dissolve the old Advisory Council on AIDS, which had no leader and hadn't met since last March, is good news -- if the reconstituted Council on HIV Prevention and Treatment in fact reflects the "new energy and new thinking" Schaefer hopes it will.

The appointment of Dr. Richard Johnson as chairman is a promising start. A neuroscientist, Johnson has not only conducted AIDS-related research but also has critical clinical experience with AIDS patients. He is unquestionably, as colleagues have testified, "a very talented guy."

Nonetheless, the challenges that lie ahead are daunting. One of Johnson's priorities, for example, is patient care, which is an urgent concern, particularly because much of the infected population is not getting any care at all. But improving care undoubtedly will require outreach efforts to drug addicts and prostitutes that are bound to be controversial. So, too, education and prevention programs, which will require confronting the realities of homosexuality and teen-age sexuality and grappling, again, with the question of whether the state should provide clean needles to addicts. It is also imperative, as the recent debate over infected health-care workers shows, to devise a workable testing policy. This will be the hardest job since it will require balancing the rights of the sick and the rights of society at large.

These are sticky policy thickets. But if the new panel is to be effective in slowing the spread of the deadly virus and providing compassionate care to its victims, it will not be able to duck the tough medical and philosophical questions.

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