Tuesday, 10 April, 2001

AIDS versus Behavior Modification

Plastic.com posted an article the other day about President Bush's appointment of Scott Evertz to head the White House's AIDS policy.  Even though Evertz is likely well qualified for the job, his appointment has angered both right-wing conservatives (because he is homosexual) and left-wing liberals (because he's a Republican).  I'll leave those politics to somebody else.  What really got me was one poster's statement:

Let's cut to the chase and figure out if AIDS is curable or preventable (other than by modifying behavior), and get on with it. At this rate, I'll have prostate cancer before they cure AIDS.

Huh?  I'd say that the most effective means of promoting public health is by modifying behavior.  Getting doctors to wash their hands before operating on patients did more to reduce post-surgical mortality than anything else.  Washing your own hands regularly, especially after using the bathroom and before eating, is a very effective way to reduce your chances of contracting many communicable diseases.  Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly is the most effective way to prevent tooth loss and other oral health problems.  All behavior modification.

We know where most people get AIDS:  sexual intercourse.  The disease is almost 100% preventable, and we could virtually eliminate it in a single generation if people would take very simple, effective, inexpensive, and readily available preventive measures.  Is using a condom really so terrible?

Certainly, a cure would be nice.  But we'd be way ahead of the disease if we spent those billions of research dollars educating the public and advocating responsible behavior.  Instead, we have spent billions of dollars, two decades of research, and millions of lives on research that has yet to bring us a cure.