Weve all heard horror stories of beasts who wont die. But no beast was ever so deathless as some myths. So it is with the notion of heterosexual AIDS poised to devour the American populace. Pierce it with facts and science all you want; the myth lives on.
The occasion for this latest round of doomsaying was an article in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publication, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). In the article the agency looked at cases through December 1996 and admitted what has been evident from the numbers for the last few years the AIDS epidemic has peaked and is actually in decline. So much for Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalalas warning four years ago that soon because of AIDS we might not have "any Americans left."
Wrong on all counts.
Lets start with the claim that AIDS is "rapidly increasing among women." AIDS cases reported in the MMWR among women actually increased all of 2 percent in 1996. As it happens, however, the CDC has also just released its mid-year "HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report," comparing cases from July 1996-June 1997 with those from July 1995-June 1996. These more recent data found that female AIDS cases actually fell by almost 2 percent. Meanwhile, female deaths from AIDS actually declined by 10 percent. This was the first time there has ever been a decline in AIDS deaths among women.
As for heterosexual contact, the MMWR data shows AIDS cases in that category did go up 8 percent. But using more recent HIV/AIDS report data, cases in the heterosexual contact category went up by less than 2 percent. Deaths in the heterosexual transmission category dropped by 8 percent. Are we all panicky yet, folks? Hands going clammy, forehead sweating profusely? Whats worst about all this nonsense, though, is that once again its merely an effort to make AIDS everyones disease equally. Or as an AmFAR slogan put it a decade ago, "AIDS is an Equal Opportunity Destroyer."
But its not and never will be. The entire increase in the MMWRs heterosexual contact category came from blacks and Hispanics. The number of cases in the white male heterosexual contact group fell by 3 percent, while among white females it dropped 4 percent. Using the more recent "HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report" data, the white heterosexual cases dropped fully 10 percent overall.
HETEROSEXUAL CONTACT ADULT/ADOLESCENT AIDS CASES
|Race||July 1995 - June 1996||July 1996 - June 1997||Increase or Decrease|
Source: CDC "HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report," Vol. 9, No. 1 (1996) and Vol. 10, No. 1 (1997)
This shift of the epidemic towards blacks and Hispanics is hardly a new trend. I noted it fully ten years ago in my first article on AIDS in Commentary magazine. But the activists and the media have cared not a whit for what the epidemic was actually doing, but rather for what would bring in the most cash and also the most readers and viewers.
Thus we were warned, as one headline put it, "AIDS Runs Wild Among Teenagers." Well, give the doomsayers their due. According to the mid-year HIV/AIDS report, teenage AIDS did go up in 1996 — by ten cases. On the other hand, AIDS cases in the 20-24 age group fell by almost 200, a decline of almost 8 percent. Together these groups represent less than 4 percent of cases reported over the last 12 months.
Even more than teenagers, nothing tugs at the heartstrings like talk of babies with AIDS. But lets talk honestly; the number of AIDS babies is, thankfully, small and dwindling. In the mid-year HIV/AIDS report, 552 babies got AIDS apparently from their mothers. In the previous 12-month reporting period, this number was 655. AIDS babies comprised less than 1 percent of the cases in the latest report. Yet it is among babies that we can see the most stark example of how the AIDS scythe really does discriminate. Though blacks are outnumbered in the U.S. by whites almost seven-to-one, they had four times as many babies (383 to 90) born with AIDS. Hispanics had 130 such babies. Asians, with 3 percent of the population, had zero AIDS babies. Overall, black AIDS cases slightly outnumber white ones, while in the much-vaunted heterosexual contact category they outnumber whites over three-to-one.
Every year this disparity grows. Yet blacks and Hispanics remain at the back of the public health bus. Stunningly, a three-page statement by CDC AIDS director Helen Gayle, which accompanied the first "HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report" that came out this year, made NO mention of any racial or ethnic group.
Thus we continue to have two AIDS epidemics. Theres the real one, in which white heterosexual contact accounts for 4 percent of the epidemic. And theres the Hollywood one — crafted by the activists, the media, the government and, yes, Hollywood itself — in which if you have a group of three people with AIDS, theyre bound to be a white man and wife and their baby. And thus we continue to concentrate our resources on where the epidemic isnt, thereby short-changing those who are truly suffering.
Read Michael Fumentos additional work on AIDS.