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A WARNING SHOT AT HOME



Published: Thu, August 1, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chicago Tribune: Imagine a population in which nine of every 10 people who tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, hadn't known they had it, and might be transmitting it to their partners.

That was the one finding presented in July at the global AIDS conference in Barcelona. The study was not conducted in Africa or Asia or somewhere else far away. It was conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the population it examined was young black men who have sex with other men.

The study surveyed 5,700 gay and bisexual men of all races between the ages of 15 and 29 in six major U.S. cities. It found that 573 of them had the virus, but 77 percent of the infected men were unaware of their HIV status. That was mainly because they had not been tested recently -- if at all -- and didn't consider themselves at high risk.

Breaking it down by race, the researchers reported that 60 percent of whites and 70 percent of Hispanics didn't know they were infected; the comparable figure for blacks was 91 percent.

Frightening implications

The subset of black men was so small that projecting that percentage to a larger population is problematic. Still, the implications are frightening. The study suggests that the relatively stable rate of AIDS cases in this country (about 40,000 new diagnoses a year) may be masking a future upsurge in the disease.

The study also adds to evidence that the burden of this life-wasting illness is falling disproportionately on ethnic minorities, especially blacks. Young gay black men are known to be at high risk for HIV; their infection rate is nearly 15 percent a year, compared to 2.5 percent for whites. But the study shows they are less likely than whites or Latinos to be tested for the virus. Blacks represent more than half of all new HIV infections. And they comprise 75 percent of the HIV infections among heterosexuals -- a sector that has been increasing steadily since 1994.

AIDS can, of course, be prevented if people are educated about it and motivated to change their behavior. Prevention programs -- including counseling and free, anonymous testing -- apparently are not reaching young black men.

Experts list numerous reasons for the disproportionate impact of AIDS and HIV on this community. Black men have higher levels of poverty, less access to health care and higher rates of incarceration. Homosexuality also tends to carry more of a stigma in the black community, and young men may not think of themselves as gay even if they have sex with other men. Then there's the sense of invincibility -- the idea that AIDS only happens to other people -- that is prevalent in young people of all races. There is also widespread mistrust of the health system. If you believe AIDS is a conspiracy, that coda relieves you of personal responsibility.

NO WAY TO FIGHT TERRORISM

Detroit Free Press: Just when you thought life in the post 9/11 era couldn't get much drearier, the Bush administration comes along with a plan to create a nation of snoops and snitches.

Operation TIPS -- Terrorism Information and Prevention System -- is a silly idea that should be dropped, as legislation approved by a House Special Committee on Homeland Security would require.

The Justice Department's plan calls for encouraging workers -- truck drivers, cable installers and meter readers -- who get inside the nation's neighborhoods and homes to report signs of terrorism to a national hotline. The administration hoped to start the program in selected cities next month and would eventually enlist millions of domestic spies.

"These workers will use their common sense ... to identify suspicious or unusual activity," says the tipster Web site (www.citizencorps.gov/tips).

Vague definition

But what would make up suspicious activity in this context is impossibly vague. Would a "foreign-looking man" renting a U-Haul fill the bill? In some people's minds, yes.

The plan would likely generate mountains of useless information in a national data bank, phoned in by unprofessional observers. Besides, what terrorist is going to leave pipe bombs or jugs of anthrax lying around when the cable guy comes calling?

Of course, anyone who does bump into something really suspicious should report it. But the nation doesn't need millions of unlicensed security agents who can, in effect, search homes without warrants.

All modern totalitarian states enlist citizen informants as "patriotic" security agents. It's an example the United States should not follow.




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