What AIDS will cost


DR. FRED HELLINGER of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is an economist, not a physician. But at the Seventh International Conference on AIDS last week, he delivered an utterly bone-chilling prognosis.

Forget everything you've heard about cost, he said: The old forecasts put the lifetime expense of treating an AIDS patient somewhere between $40,000 and $75,000. Unfortunately, this guess fails to factor in the relatively new costs of early treatment for people who have the AIDS virus (HIV) but not the fully active disease. The real tab, Hellinger reckons, will weigh in at closer to $85,333 per patient. Such trends are striking cold terror in the hearts of recession-dazed politicians and bureaucrats.

That is all the more reason to bolster our efforts to curb the spread of AIDS. There are many ways to do this. For example: A New York City study presented at the conference shows that chancroid (or genital sores) raises the risk of female-to-male transmission. A stronger attack on this venereal disease would reap a double benefit.

Studies in New York, San Francisco, Edinburgh, Scotland, and elsewhere show that addicts are willing to modify their high-risk behavior with effective intervention.

The best reasons for battling AIDS are humanitarian. But with better prevention programs, we could save our money as we save our skins.

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