Thomas McDonough of Towson, asks if U.S. taxpayer dollars sent to fight AIDS in Africa are not better used right here in Baltimore or Detroit, at least for now ("African AIDS money better spent at home," June 25). Senora McGuire of Dundalk deplores the money Michelle Obama and family have wasted on their recent Africa trip ("How can we afford First Lady's trip to Africa?" June 28). While referring to AIDS activists talking to the First lady about the plight of AIDS victims, Ms. McGuire says that AIDS will long be with us and there is no use talking about it.

It is a testament to the medical community and AIDS activists that people like Mr. McDonough and Ms. McGuire can make light of AIDS this way. AIDS is treatable as a chronic illness for now. Antiviral use is more widespread, science is supplanting superstition in Africa, whole populations of people are not being decimated, and AIDS orphans hopefully will grow less staggeringly large in number. But the AIDS virus is a rapidly mutating virus and it is not unimaginable that if people grow more complacent or apathetic, it could emerge more lethal than ever before.

Why should we worry about AIDS in Africa? AIDS started in West Africa, but wound up all over the world via sexual transmission by infected travelers. AIDS also weakens the immune system to cause other deadly infections like drug-resistant tuberculosis, most common in Southern Africa where the First Lady is traveling. AIDS may be sexually transmitted, but secondary infections from it can be transmitted through non-sexual contact. They can be airborne droplet infections that can travel fast and if not nipped in the bud they could become global epidemics.

The American medical community is interested in avian flu, swine flu, SARS and several other diseases. It is in the business of worldwide epidemics, prevention as well as treatment. If the U.S. allows itself to be distracted or consumed just by parochial interests and concerns, countries like India and China will play lead roles in cornering Africa's vast market for generic AIDS drugs. Besides, Africa is a colossal laboratory for AIDS. When the U.S. sends money, builds AIDS hospitals and engages African anti-AIDS crusaders, it helps U.S. scientists be at the helm of AIDS research and stay one step ahead of the cunning AIDS virus.

The study of AIDS in Africa and elsewhere has also opened up the floodgates for novel antiviral therapies. At one time viruses were considered unconquerable but now we have therapeutic options for them and we are not as confounded by them as we used to be. AIDS research has spawned treatments for diseases like hepatitis B and hepatitis C. The latter is a chronic, debilitating, sexually transmitted viral illness quite common in America.

Activists unveiled Africa's ongoing AIDS plight to Mrs. Obama precisely because they are afraid of attitudes like those of Mr. McDonough and Ms. McGuire. In a continent that has been weakened and flattened by AIDS, it is more than a disease. It is a social malady, a stigma and a disability that can sap the vitality and productivity of a nation. Yes, AIDS will long be with us, but it is not true that there is no use talking about it.

There will be people on both sides of the spectrum: those who want to forget about AIDS and those who want to keep the focus on it. Africans have no other choice but to keep the conversation going and pointing to the world that there is no terror worse than the terror of emerging viruses and bacteria.

People like the First Lady are links in the chain to remind others in high places that AIDS is not dead, that Africa is a continent of exquisite beauty and great human potential and that its variegated people deserve our compassion and our help. Africa's immense natural resources continue to be exploited by the world and the world cannot give nothing in return to the people of the continent from which all human beings descended.

Usha Nellore, Bel Air