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Huckabee on AIDS

By Scott Tibbs, December 12, 2007

As former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee gains momentum, he is also getting more heat as issue-advocacy groups, political opponents and the mainstream media dig into his political history. As comments made about AIDS in 1992 come to light, he is being challenged by the mother of AIDS victim Ryan White.

Suggesting that people who carry HIV or have AIDS should be isolated from the general population is silly now, and it was silly in 1992. It was well known by that point that AIDS could not be spread by casual contact. It was spread through sexual acts, sharing dirty needles and blood transfusions. (Ryan White got AIDS from tainted blood.) Thankfully, the medical community has made great progress in making the blood supply safe. Huckabee's comments about quarantine were ignorant in 1992, and even more ignorant as he defends them now.

While quarantine is not a reasonable solution, we do need to be honest about how AIDS is spread and pursue effective solutions to the public health problem the disease represents. Since AIDS is a behaviorally spread disease, the smart thing to do is focus on reducing the behaviors that spread the disease. In short: someone who abstains from sex until marriage and them remains faithful to his/her spouse is much less likely to contract HIV than someone who "hooks up" with acquaintances or anonymous partners.

The problem with advocating things like "safe sex" is that it creates a false sense of security. Condoms are not 100% effective in stopping HIV from being transmitted from one person to another. Young people who already believe themselves to be invulnerable should not be encouraged to take unnecessary risks. Ultimately, the federal government is not the solution. The church is going to have to take this issue on, providing the Gospel as an escape from the sinful behaviors that put one at risk of AIDS.

Not everything Huckabee said was without value, however. It is reasonable to question, as Huckabee did, how much money is spent on AIDS as compared to other public health matters such as cancer and heart disease. How many people suffer from other diseases and disorders, and how many fatalities are caused by that those diseases and disorders as compared to AIDS? Obviously, federal monies dedicated to medical research need to go to the most pressing problems first, and not to whatever cause is most politically popular at the moment.

While advocating quarantine was an ignorant overreaction, Huckabee is right that we cannot treat AIDS as a civil rights issue instead of a public health issue. This lack of proper focus was highlighted two years ago when two Leftists wrote letters to the editor whining and crying about a federal policy designed to reduce the risk of tainted blood entering the blood supply. These Leftists selfishly complained about the "rights" of people who wish to donate blood rather than worrying about where the focus should be, on the people who need donated blood.

AIDS is a unique disease to tackle because public health and science are wrapped up with moral, political and social issues. I expect it will be a political football for a long time to come, unfortunately. What we need are statesmen who are willing to talk openly and honestly about the disease and what the solutions should be, without getting caught up in the inevitable political backlash that will follow. Sadly, those people are few and far between. We have no shortage of demagogues, though.