Tulips and the Health-Care Debacle; AIDS-Prevention Programs Are Weedy with delusions.(OPED)

Article excerpt

Byline: Elliott J. Millenson, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds," Charles MacKay described times throughout history when people simultaneously deluded themselves, such as Holland's 17th century tulip craze. Of course, delusions have caused more than just monetary loss, as evidenced by the Salem witch hunts; under a seemingly rational system of "trials," people were irrationally put to death.

This World AIDS Day, it is time to recognize that our nation's approach to disease prevention is as riddled with ulterior motives as a banker's buy rating on an Internet stock. Around the world, millions have lost their lives relying on the misguided advice of governments to practice "safe sex" and use condoms to avoid AIDS. Unfortunately, just as financial institutions led domestic and foreign investors astray with convincing rationalizations for buying overvalued stocks in the 1990s, nations throughout the world mimic our half-measured, conflict-ridden approach to AIDS and other disease prevention.

Certainly, abstinence and condom use have reduced the spread of AIDS. But, using condoms "consistently and properly" to prevent the spread of AIDS, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend, is putting a buy rating on an overvalued security device.

CDC's advice is nothing more than a "don't ask - don't tell" approach to AIDS: Don't worry about your or your partner's HIV infection status, just use condoms and play Russian roulette with your life. In studies where one partner was infected and condoms were used, the infection rate was roughly 15 percent - and this was in a situation where both partners were "consistent and proper" because they were aware one partner was infected. The reality is that love-making is not typically "consistent and proper," especially in the absence of knowledge of a partner's infection. More important, most people would not choose to willingly pursue a sexual relationship with an HIV-infected partner.

Clearly, it is delusional to continue recommending condom use without also strongly encouraging knowledge of HIV infection status. With testing, if you are infected, you can seek treatment; if you know your partner is infected, you can take appropriate steps. There is a common denominator in all delusional systems, namely the failure of checks and balances to operate properly. In a recent series of articles on the Internet bubble, The Washington Post observed: "If any of these groups [regulators, financial firms, media] had acted the way they were supposed to and blown the whistle, it is likely the bubble would never have grown so big - or perhaps never developed at all. But it is in the very nature of a bubble that the lapses are simultaneous and widespread."

For years, the government has given lip service to prevention, deluding the public while allowing its AIDS prevention approach to be dictated by interest groups. Just as investment banks' recommendations lulled investors into a false sense of security, individuals have become complacent about the risks of getting AIDS while using condoms.

Historically, AIDS activists have opposed testing, fearing the effect on their social lives. …