AIDS Activists' Big
Reversal - Now Calling
For Wider HIV Testing
By Maggie Fox
Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- AIDS groups that have previously opposed widespread HIV testing reversed their stand Monday, saying wider testing is one of the best ways to help stem the epidemic.
They also said the government and groups like theirs need to step up prevention programs that educate people who have become complacent about the risks.
"When the antibody test for HIV first became available in 1985, AIDS organizations like Gay Men's Health Crisis and many others were reluctant, even afraid, to encourage people to take this not-so-simple blood test," Ronald Johnson of the group told a news conference.
"Fear that the results would be used improperly and the lack of any treatment meant that we just didn't see the value of HIV testing," he said.
But Johnson and representatives of several other groups noted there were now safeguards for anonymity.
"Now, today in 1998, there has never been a better time to get tested for HIV," Johnson said. "People who are infected with HIV wait too long to find out they are infected."
As AIDS symptoms take years to develop, HIV-positive people can infect many others before knowing they are sick themselves.
Another group, AIDS Action, released a 10-point plan it said could help prevent the 40,000 new cases of HIV infection reported every year in the United States.
A quick AIDS test that does not take days to get a result is a cornerstones of the plan.
"The reality is that the current generation of AIDS drugs don't work for everyone and are a cure for no one," Daniel Zingale, executive director of the group, told the news conference.
"For many young people who were too young to witness the devastation AIDS wrought in the first 15 years of the epidemic, condoms and safe sex are simply a 'retro-80s thing' book-ended between (former surgeon-general) C. Everett Koop (who fought smoking) and Nancy Reagan's wagging finger."
Referring to the former first lady's anti-drugs slogan, he added: "And 'Just say no' doesn't work -- people need to know what they can do, not only what they can't."
Minority groups such as blacks, who are disproportionately affected by HIV, should get special targeting, he added.
Zingale said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funding for AIDS research should be increased by 25 percent, treatment should be more readily available and television companies should feel free to advertise condoms and other ways to prevent HIV transmission, and talk about them on programs.
The group called for the setting-up of a "heavily publicized" Internet Web site where young people could learn about HIV and talk about their sexual behavior. And they repeated calls for the quick development of a vaccine.
Helene Gayle of the CDC said people were forgetting the safe-sex messages that worked until recently.
"Contrary to what AIDS cases alone show us, HIV cases show there is an ever-increasing toll among the young, minorities and women," Gayle said.
She said 55 percent of all cases were among people under 34. Fifty-seven percent of all HIV cases are in blacks.
She said it costs more than $150,000 to treat a person for HIV infection. "At the current rate of annual infections in the United States (at least 40,000), the nation now adds $6.2 billion in future health care costs alone for HIV every year," she said.

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