The Fight Against AIDS
March 6, 1990 — Committee on the Budget, Task Force on Human Resources, US House of Representatives, Washington DC
Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. It is an honor for me to appear before this distinguished Task Force of the House Budget Committee. Thank you.
I have been involved in the fight against AIDS for many years now. I am committed to this struggle because the tragedy of AIDS has affected me very deeply. So many of us have seen those we love, friends and family members, die of this devastating disease. So far, AIDS has killed over 70,000 Americans. That is more than died in the Vietnam war. Up to 1 million Americans are infected by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. All of these people are in grave danger. Incredible as it may seem, the darkest period of the AIDS crisis still lies ahead of us.
Over the past few years we have started to see progress — sometimes major progress. But I am afraid that we are entering a new, very difficult period in our fight against AIDS. Just when it seemed that society’s compassion and understanding of AIDS was growing, we are witnessing a very disturbing resurgence of ignorance and misinformation about this disease.
For example, we have all heard recent reports that the number of new AIDS cases is slightly lower than expected. As a result, some people are suggesting that the worst of the AIDS epidemic will soon be over. We are also hearing that AIDS only threatens people who are perceived to be on the margins of our society, such as people of color and gay men. The thinly veiled message is that the majority of Americans do not need to care about AIDS. Finally, we are hearing complaints that Federal AIDS spending is too high, especially when compared to what we spend on other illnesses.
I am deeply concerned about these disturbing misconceptions about AIDS. They are misleading, wrong-headed, and very dangerous. Any suggestion that the worst of the epidemic is over or that it will not in some way affect the majority of Americans simply is not true. The cold, hard facts tell us a very different story.
First, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, the number of people diagnosed with AIDS will more than double in the next year and a half.
Second, the virus that causes AIDS continues to spread at an alarming rate. Women and people of color now constitute the majority of new infections, and m a n y of these people are being infected through heterosexual contact.
Third, AIDS is an infectious disease — a deadly infectious disease that threatens an ever-growing number of people in the prime of life. Given the perils of AIDS, the resources we have so far devoted to this epidemic, rather than being extravagant are minor com pared to the resources we have long devoted to research on other diseases.
I have talked to many doctors and people with AIDS throughout the country. They all tell me one thing: healthcare facilities for people with AIDS are already overwhelmed. Some urban hospitals are literally overflowing. There are no available beds — patients must spend days waiting for a regular room. AIDS is pushing our healthcare system to its limits and beyond, endangering all Americans. And yet, incredibly the worst is yet to come. The demand placed on these facilities for AIDS related health care is expected to double in the next year and a half.
That is why I am here today. I have come to urge you to endorse the plan outlined in the Comprehensive AIDS Relief Act introduced in the Senate today by Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch.
The first letters of this bill appropriately spell C-A-R-E. This bill will provide urgently needed healthcare for people with AIDS and HIV infection, and it can help save our health care system from disaster.
AIDS is a major national crisis. As a nation, we have responded generously to the earthquake that struck San Francisco last October. Sixty-five people died in San Francisco and the property damage in the millions. In response, billions of dollars of Federal aid were made available almost immediately.
A similar disaster is now striking most of the Nation’s major cities. Cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York simply do not have the resources to cope with the AIDS disaster on their own. The Federal Government must come to the rescue.
As a first step, the CARE bill will provide emergency relief to our cities hardest hit by AIDS. The bill will also help provide com prehensive care for all people with AIDS and HIV infection throughout the country.
The CARE bill will also allow people to receive treatment and care in their homes. That is so much more humane and less expensive than hospital care. More importantly, the CARE bill will help pay for crucial early treatment for AIDS and HIV disease. Right now, up to 1 million people urgently need early treatment.
Thanks to research, treatments now do exist for people who are HIV infected and have not yet developed any symptoms, but many people cannot pay for these treatments because they need our help.
Without treatment, many of these people will become seriously ill in the next few years. Unless we act decisively we risk losing this precious chance to save lives. We need the resources now to provide those people with care.
Finally, support for treatment and care is important, but we must continue and strengthen our commitment to AIDS research to find effective treatments and a cure. Recently there have been charges that AIDS research has received more than its fair share of Federal funds. AIDS demands our urgent attention because it is an infectious illness, spreading rapidly and killing people in the prime of their lives. We don’t want to take money away from research for cancer or heart disease or any other serious illness. We feel that our Nation can and should provide the necessary re sources to fight all of those diseases. The health of our people must be a top priority.
We cannot let up on our efforts to fight AIDS. The struggle that lies ahead threatens to overwhelm us. The people on the front lines of this fight need our help urgently to save lives. W e cannot let them down. We need their energy, their dedication, and their love in the dark days that lie ahead. Thank you.
Source: Hearing Before the Task Force on Human Resources of the Committee on the Budget, House of Representatives, 101st Cong., 2nd. Sess. (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office) 1990, pp. 3-5.