Schaefer will disband AIDS council, shift work

January 07, 1993|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday that he will disband his Advisory Council on AIDS and shift its work to his Drug and Alcohol Advisory Council -- creating consternation and anger among some AIDS activists.

The governor said he wants a more energetic attack on AIDS in Maryland, one that focuses more sharply on education and prevention.

Mr. Schaefer said he believes AIDS issues will be pushed more vigorously by Dr. Neil Solomon, head of the drug and alcohol panel, and he added, "many AIDS cases are drug related." Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is a sexually transmitted disease, but it also is spread among intravenous drug users who share needles.

Without disputing that fact, others found the governor's plan distressing.

"It's a grave mistake," said Garey Lambert, vice chairman of AIDS Action in Baltimore. By shifting the panel's work, he said, Mr. Schaefer risks at least symbolic dilution of its importance at a time when the AIDS "epidemic is growing faster than many want to recognize."

Schaefer staff members said the governor's intent is to invigorate the anti-AIDS effort. But a member of the AIDS panel sharply challenged the wisdom of his method.

Dr. John F. Bartlett, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins University, said the governor's drug and alcohol advisory council has no virtually expertise in AIDS.

"It's like putting [football coach] Mike Ditka in charge of the Orioles," he said. In its voluminous report on drug and alcohol abuse in Maryland, Dr. Bartlett said, the council mentioned the word AIDS only twice.

Dr. Bartlett said he doubts the governor understands the richness of the state's AIDS-fighting resources or the effectiveness of Maryland's health department in winning AIDS research grants.

Mr. Schaefer has frequently been frustrated by policy differences with the AIDS panels. He disbanded an earlier version of the council after it disagreed with him on AIDS testing. And yesterday he said that members of the current council "spend most of their time worrying about confidentiality."

Neither the AIDS council chairman, Dr. Richard Johnson, director of neurology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, nor Dr. Solomon, chairman of the drug and alcohol panel, had been told of the governor's plan.

Dr. Solomon said he and an aide to the governor had discussed theidea earlier this week.

"I know he's been pleased with our approach on prevention and education. I'm flattered that he liked what we did and would like us to use some of the same thoughts and ideas in AIDS," he said.

Dr. Solomon said he would try to get "the best brains available" to work on AIDS issues. "This is not a field I am an expert in at all."

But one of Maryland's experts, Dr. Bartlett of the AIDS panel, said he is not sure he wants to continue with an enterprise that seems so thankless.

Instead of being terminated and shifted, he said, the council's work should be "celebrated."

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