New focus in the AIDS fight

January 29, 1993

No doubt there are good reasons to quibble with Gov. William Donald Schaefer's decision to disband his Advisory Council on AIDS and shift its responsibilities to Dr. Neil Solomon's state commission on drug and alcohol abuse. But there is one good argument for the change -- a practical one.

For all its expertise, the AIDS commission as constituted had failed to gain the governor's confidence. That may be the governor's fault as much as anyone's. But without Mr. Schaefer on its side, the commission simply couldn't carry much clout. The decision of its members to continue to serve as an unofficial "watchdog" group for AIDS policies may be as good a way as any to make use of this group's valuable expertise.

The governor has been pleased with Dr. Solomon's public information efforts to combat drug and alcohol abuse. Dr. Solomon himself is quick to note that he has no expertise in AIDS, and that he welcomes help and advice from AIDS commission members. This open attitude could help mollify miffed feelings among AIDS experts -- and enlist their help in combating AIDS in Maryland.

Since AIDS first surfaced in this country in 1981, more than 5,300 cases have been diagnosed in the state, but as many as 16,000 Marylanders could be infected with HIV, the AIDS virus. That represents a sizable health problem, and a significant burden on state resources. Even so, the state has some assets lacking in other regions. Maryland's medical institutions, along with the state AIDS Administration, have attracted a sizable amount of research funding, and the state ranks sixth in spending for AIDS care.

But the virus is spreading dangerously fast among intravenous drug users, and among blacks and women. In many cases, drug users and minorities also lack access to good medical care and are less likely to get the treatment they need. Without good medical care, the virus is less likely to be detected early, when drugs like AZT can make the most difference in prolonging health and quality of life.

The governor is right to want to see a stronger emphasis on AIDS education and prevention programs. Perhaps Dr. Solomon can deliver that, while still paying appropriate attention to the concerns about privacy and patients' rights that the commission deemed so important. The point to remember is that effective action now can make a great deal of difference in combating an epidemic for which there is yet no cure.

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