AIDS Turns Politicians into Thugs, Idiots, and Liars
In 1992, Mike Huckabee stupidly suggested that AIDS patients be quarantined. In 2007, he lied and denied ever suggesting such a thing.
Another day, another AIDS outrage. This time, it's the Egyptian government torturing AIDS patients:
HIV-positive Egyptian men are tortured and chained to hospital beds while awaiting unfair homosexuality trials, a human rights group has claimed. Human Rights Watch (HRW) decried the "ignorance and injustice" of a case in which a group of arrested men were given HIV tests without their consent. They were also subjected to anal tests to "prove" their homosexual conduct.
Two of the men tested HIV-positive and are now handcuffed to hospital beds for 23 hours a day, HRW said.
Egypt's government isn't alone in its bullying approach to the crisis. Libyan authorities tried to blame an outbreak of HIV on foreign doctors, thus guaranteeing that Libya's doctor shortage will continue as foreign nationals avoid the country. Six months ago, South African president Thabo Mbeki fired a deputy health minister who was too aggressive in his approach to combating the spread of HIV.
The case of South Africa brings up another common aspect of AIDS policy: counterproductive measures that are the result of willful ignorance and political calculation. Mbeki believes that HIV is not the only cause of AIDS, and that other causes include vitamin deficiency. So the South African government diverts precious resources away from distributing condoms and encouraging safe sex practices, and tells people that they can prevent AIDS by taking vitamins and by eating garlic and beets. Not surprisingly, South Africa now has one of the world's highest AIDS infection rates.
The United States practices thuggishness and spreads ignorance on a global scale. USAID undermines and de-funds effective programs because of a variety of factors, all of which can be traced to cynical politicking on the part of Bush officials. Some programs are attacked because they include needle exchanges, condom distribution, and outreach to prostitutes, practices that are opposed by a vocal and influential minority of religious conservatives. USAID attacks other programs because they treat patients with generic drugs instead of the more expensive versions that are manufactured by American pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile, the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator requires that 2/3 of all American money spent on preventing HIV transmission be spent on programs that promote abstinence and fidelity, despite the fact that safe sex education is more effective at preventing HIV transmission.
AIDS isn't the only disease that inspires outbursts of irrationality. There are still cranks and crazies who tell people not to immunize their children against polio, despite the fact that immunizations reduced the infection rate in the US by 90% in just 5 years, and cut the number of infections worldwide by 98% between 1988 and 1999. Thanks in part to the efforts of the anti-vaccine morons, the rate of infection is again on the rise.
But AIDS is different. Disinformation about AIDS isn't disseminated by only a few fringe pseudo-scientists, but by many governments as well. And even though fear of polio was acute and widespread before the development of an effective vaccine, those who suffered from the disease were treated with compassion. AIDS sufferers often face discrimination, and ostracism, and are sometimes treated as criminals.
So what makes AIDS different? Sex. Specifically, the sort of sex that is thought of as immoral by those who take it upon themselves to guard the moral rectitude of entire nations. Gay sex. Premarital Sex. Recreational Sex. It's this aspect of AIDS that makes it impossible for many South African politicians to admit that HIV is the sole cause of AIDS. They can't bring themselves to admit that most South Africans, like most people throughout the world, have engaged in "immoral" sexual activity at one time or another. It's this aspect of AIDS that inspires the hyper-moralists to oppose sex education and condom distribution. It's this aspect of AIDS that makes Egyptian officials feel justified when they treat AIDS sufferers as thought they were criminals.
In short, much of the needless suffering of AIDS patients is caused by the same factors that cause much of the unnecessary transmission of HIV: the belief that certain types of sex are inherently immoral, and the belief that regulation of sexual morality is a proper function of government. But religious leaders aren't going to abandon their doctrines concerning sexual morality anytime soon, and it's not at all clear that we'd be better off if they did. So in the coming years, those of us who favor a practical approach to combating AIDS should take some time to argue that governments should promote liberty, health, safety, and prosperity, but leave the promotion of morality to families and to community and spiritual leaders.
(cross posted at appletree)