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The Daily Agenda for Saturday, April 13

Jim Burroway

April 13th, 2013

TODAY’S AGENDA:
Events This Weekend: AIDS Walk, Belmont, NC; Women’s Fest 2013, Camp Rehoboth, DE; AIDS Walk, Cincinnati, OH; AIDS Walk, Des Moines, IA; AIDS Walk, Honolulu, HI; AIDS Walk, Las Vegas, NV; Miami Beach Pride, Miami, FL; Ride for AIDS, Pasadena, CA; Gay Snow Happening, Solden, Austria; Tallahassee Pride, Tallahassee, FL.

TODAY IN HISTORY:
State Department Fires 425 Gays: 1953. The Associated Press carried this update to the ongoing quest to rid the State Department of its gay employees:

“Homosexual proclivities” led to the dismissal of 425 State Department employees since 1947, the director of the department’s office of security, John Ford, told the House Appropriations Committee yesterday. He said many cases are still pending.

First Congressional Hearing on AIDS: 1982. It had been ten months since the Centers for Disease Control first alerted the world about a strange constellation of diseases which had been striking down otherwise healthy gay men (see Jun 5). By the end of 1982, more than 300 would die nationwide out of 800 cases reported to the CDC. Yet the news media remained mostly silent. The New York Times had written only two articles in all of 1981, while Time and Newsweek didn’t get around to writing their first stories until six months after the CDC’s first report.

And as long as the media remained silent, there would be no pressure on the U.S government to fully fund the National Institutes of Health and the CDC to battle the new epidemic. President Ronald Reagan was spending his first year in office implementing massive cuts at the NIH and CDC. When adjusted for inflation, the NIH’s budget for 1981 actually declined by 5.6%, and its purchasing power dropped by another 6.1% in 1982.  Reagan’s budget slashed 1,000 research grants from the NIH and reduced the size of the Epidemiological Intelligence Service, whose job it was to track the spread of diseases. The administration’s budget for the CDC also was not enough to keep pace with inflation.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), whose Los Angeles Congressional district was heavily impacted by the epidemic, chaired the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. To call attention to the Administration’s woefully inadequate response to this new disease — it still didn’t have a name; it was known as either GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) or by the opportunistic infections that were associated with it (Pneumocystis pneumonia, Kaposi’s Sarcoma, etc.) — Waxman held the first Congressional hearing on the topic, and he chose the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center in Hollywood as the hearing’s venue. Waxman began:

I want to be especially blunt about the political aspects of Kaposi’s sarcoma. This horrible disease afflicts members of one of the nation’s most stigmatized and discriminated against minorities, The victims are not typical Main Street Americans. They are gays, mainly from New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. There is not doubt in my mind that, if the disease had appeared among Americans of Norwegian descent, or among tennis players, rather than gay males, the responses of both the government and the medical community would have been different. Legionnaire’s disease hit a group of predominantly white, heterosexual middle-aged members of the American Legion. The respectability of the victims brought them a degree of attention and funding for research and treatment far greater than that made available so for to the victims of Kaposi’s sarcoma.

I want to emphasize the contrast, because the more popular Legionnaire’s disease affected fewer people and proved less likely to be fatal. What society judged was not the severity of the disease but the social acceptability of the individuals affected with it. … I intend to fight any effort by anyone at any level to make public health policy regarding Kaposi’s sarcoma or any other disease on the basis of his or her personal prejudices regarding other people’s sexual preferences or life-styles.

Officials from the CDC and National Cancer Institute were called to testify, but as employees of the executive branch of government, they weren’t in much of a position to be candid about the crippling effects of Reagan’s budget cuts. The CDC’s Jim Curran described how they shifted funds around to try to cope with the epidemic, and the National Cancer Institute’s Bruce Chabner testified that he couldn’t provide a figure for how much grant money was available for research and treatment. But he did announced that his Institute would release $1 million for AIDS research. That was a laughably low figure; a single grant for a research center often ran beyond $10 million. Dr. Stan Matek, President of the American Public Health Association, called the official response weak. “We believe the immunoresponse system of this country is weak, that it needs to be strengthened,” he said, “and that only Congress can do it.” He praised the CDC’s efforts thus far in coping with so few resources, but added:

We believe they cannot cope with Kaposi’s sarcoma and its related syndrome. We believe their intervention abilities are so handicapped that the nation’s health is in peril. (The current approach) represents, I fear, only high-level, ‘ad-hocracy’ There is no guarantee of continuity of effort … It is an issue of budget allocation.

Where is that epidemiologically essential money going to come from? It is not going to come from NIH, or at least not in any significant amounts, given the prior commitments and loss in real funding capability. If it comes from within CDC, it will come from robbing Peter to pay Paul. It will come by shifting already committed and needed resources … which is fine if you are Paul, but not so useful if you are Peter.

The goal of the hearing was to get the media’s attention, and with that attention Waxman and health officials could pressure the White House to agree to more funding. But the media ignored the entire event. Television networks and even local Los Angeles TV stations didn’t bother to cover it. The only mention was an article in The Los Angeles Times. It’s headline read, “Epidemic Affecting Gays Now Found In Heterosexuals.”

It would be another full year before $12 million was finally allocated specifically for the AIDS epidemic.

[Source: Randy Shilts. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987): 143-146.]

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

Comments

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Now An Agnostic
April 13th, 2013 | LINK

Even in the 2000s Margaret Heckler, Reagan’s HHS Secretary, insisted during a TV special on AIDS, that the CDC had all the funding it needed or could use. Meanwhile, during the same program, Dr. Faucci, I believe it was, said they had to scrounge around and borrow microscopes. That’s how evil that administration remains even today.

Jim Hlavac
April 13th, 2013 | LINK

In the first 2 years of the “epidemic” it wasn’t even one — it was reports of isolated but growing different diseases in different men, not all known to be gay, in different places — the idea that one could have funneled money into “research” is sort of silly — for research what? KS? the pneumonia? these things were being researched — now a new and specific population appeared. And as soon as more info was obtained, and as soon as the initial reports were collated to reveal the scope, and as soon as it became clear that it was even immune-based then the research started. I just never understood how one can “research” what one barely knows exists — and to constantly blame Reagan when he came into office with cost cutting in mind, well before GRID surfaced for somehow “cutting AIDS research” is nuts.
Frankly, considering the practical realities of what was being dealt with — plus the gay factor — well, I think they did what they could do, and more.

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