No Secrets about AIDS

November 23, 1992

"Is this AIDS thing really so bad?"

A Howard County health department nurse says she hears that question often. When she does, "I just tell people, 'Whoa! You better believe it is.'"

Someone should say "whoa!" to the parents in Howard and Harford counties who are publicly protesting the presentation of a play about AIDS as an educational tool in area high schools.

The Kaiser Permanente health-maintenance organization has been staging the play, "Secrets," in high schools throughout Maryland and other states for two years. Featuring actors as parents and students, the play offers information on how AIDS is transmitted -- through drug abuse as well as through sexual encounters. "Secrets" also tells how to avoid getting the disease, including through the use of condoms.

Parents opposed to the play claim its frank language and emphasis on condoms implies teens have a license to be sexually active. The accent, say the parents, should be on sexual abstinence.

No doubt these parents have their hearts in the right place. Who would say sexual restraint is something most kids shouldn't practice? Maybe parents with strong objections to AIDS education would feel better if they took the available option of excluding their kids from such programs.

But at what risk to their kids do they do so? Blame it on MTV, the movies, whatever -- but the fact is many teens are sexually active.

As troubling and problematic as this behavior might be, it has been made potentially lethal by the emergence of AIDS. Ignoring the disease is no way to fight it.

How bad is "this AIDS thing"?

The number of AIDS cases diagnosed annually in the United States grew five-fold in recent years, from a rate of 35 diagnosed cases per million Americans in 1985 to 170 cases per million in 1990. Over the same period, the number of diagnosed cases increased seven-fold in Baltimore City, and tripled in the metro area comprising Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Queen Anne's counties.

Those are statistics the upset parents would do well to bear in mind. If the Kaiser Permanente play is as useful an educational tool as local school and health officials say it is, then high school students should see it.

After all, their lives could depend on how much they know -- or don't know -- about AIDS and all its "secrets."

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