AIDS Scare


As an attention-grabbing headline, "AIDS Activists Call for Cutting Federal Spending on AIDS" is right up there with "Man Bites Dog." Still, some Washington, D.C.-area newspapers saw so little newsworthiness in the story that they wouldn't even run an ad that four ACT-UP chapters put together to announce their surprising position. The ad argued that government AIDS expenditures have so far been largely misdirected and scandal-ridden.

Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill, ran the AIDS advocacy groups' advertisement on June 22. But The Hill, another paper focused on Congress, and The Washington Blade, a gay paper, both refused to do so, claiming the ad made undocumented assertions. (The Web site www.actupsf.com does provide extensive support, mostly from newspaper articles, for the claims.)

The ad's sponsors–the San Francisco, Atlanta, Hollywood, and Toronto chapters of ACT-UP–are renegades in the larger AIDS activist community: They think that HIV is not a necessary or sufficient cause of AIDS. The ad did not discuss that point, instead stressing more typical objections to government spending, including the misuse of money from the Ryan White Act (an umbrella program name for federal AIDS money) and other AIDS assistance programs. The ad notes that $2.2 million in federal money meant for AIDS was rerouted toward political payoffs and bribes in Puerto Rico (a case that has so far led to more than 10 criminal convictions). The ad also points out that many popular AIDS drugs paid for with federal dollars have life-threatening side effects.

ACT-UP San Francisco spokesman Michael Bellefountaine says the group hasn't been able to get much support from any politicians for its specific position, which calls for redirecting AIDS funds to more general health and housing aid for any sick American. (The ad also featured a bar graph showing that AIDS gets more federal money per victim than any other disease.) "A lot of the right-wingers who might jump on defunding AIDS wouldn't jump on the overall push of the ads," Bellefountaine explains. But he also notes that some of the horror stories of fund misuse were brought up in congressional debates over this year's funding for the Ryan White Act.