It’s World AIDS Day; Is it the “Forgotten Epidemic”?

World AIDS Day has rolled around again, amid charges by C. Everett Koop that “HIV is no longer on the public’s radar screen, and the result is deadly serious.” So the 94-year-old former Surgeon General told the 2010 National Summit on HIV Diagnosis, Prevention and Access to Care in late November. The disease is becoming “the forgotten epidemic,” he claimed, causing a dangerous “growing sense of complacency.”

AIDS forgotten? Sure, like Sarah Palin is forgotten.

As I observe in my piece today, “On World AIDS Day, Let’s Remember the True Forgotten Victims,” the term “HIV” brings up over 100 million Google hits in just the past year. Nor is it even an epidemic. U.S. AIDS cases peaked 17 years ago, then plummeted to a steady “endemic” level within three years. Worldwide, a UNAIDS report released last week states the epidemic peaked 11 years ago in terms of cases,  with infections peaking much earlier.

Yet HIV/AIDS will receive over $3 billion in the 2011 federal research budget. That doesn’t include an entirely separately-funded “infectious disease” category.  Granted, it’s shy of the 100 billion gagillion that Dr. Evil wanted in order to ransom the earth, but:

  • HIV/AIDS gets about $200,000 per patient death in the NIH research budget, according to calculations from the FAIR Foundation (Fair Allocations in Research). We spend 21 times more per AIDS death than cancer death. Pancreatic cancer will strike about 43,000 Americans this year and is essentially a quick death sentence. It gets one percent of the funding per death as AIDS.
  • Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are the nation’s sixth and 14th-leading causes of death respectively, yet HIV/AIDS gets 34 times and 25 times more per fatality respectively.
  • The disparity is all the worse when trends are considered. While AIDS cases and deaths remain level, those of Parkinson’s are inexorably climbing while those of Alzheimer’s are flying off the chart.
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis are the ninth leading cause of death in this country, causing three times as many deaths as AIDS. Compared to those 100 million Google hits for AIDS over the past year, “nephritis” got just 1.3 million. Far more importantly, the Medline database lists fewer than 2,000 total published medical papers on nephritis, compared to 21,000 on HIV/AIDS in just the past year.

Further, the vast majority of federal AIDS spending can’t possibly lead to a cure or vaccine or prevent a single new case. Of the approximately $26 billion budgeted this year for HIV/AIDS,  only 11 percent will go for research and 3 percent for prevention. The rest is care, cash, and housing assistance.

Federal non-research AIDS spending far exceeds the combined research grant budget for all diseases combined — including AIDS! This even as NIH has to turn away over three-fourth of grant applicants.

It’s Koop who’s worried about being forgotten. So let’s indulge him. Let’s recall that he was among the worst perpetrators of AIDS mass hysteria, which I first debunked in a 1987 article and then my 1990 book The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, including popularizing the term “heterosexual AIDS explosion.” The lesson here, Koop said in his talk with no hint of irony, is “If you tell people the truth, in a very factual way, they will act.”

No, the lesson is you can indeed fool most of the people most of the time. And then become a hero for it — even as the entire nation pays a horrible price for it for perhaps generations to come.