THERE ARE many who criticize the federal government's slow start in funding AIDS research and providing resources for the care and treatment of victims. But there is little doubt that there is now a concerted campaign to address this disease, and there is widespread support for massive federal spending programs in the effort. At the same time, however, the administration has proposed reductions in appropriations to the Centers for Disease Control for programs to combat other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Two former directors of the CDC, Drs. William Foege and David Sencer, have recently warned of the dangers in this policy.
While energy and attention have been focused on AIDS, the incidence of other diseases has increased sharply. In the first three months of this year, for example, the rate of primary syphilis went up 23 percent. It is the largest increase in a decade, and is most apparent in California and New York, where AIDS is epidemic. Venereal diseases and AIDS are related in a number of ways, and it is not surprising that increases in one area are matched by higher statistics in the other. It is now clear that people with sores and ulcers caused by venereal diseases are more susceptible to AIDS than those who are not infected. Some scientists attribute the higher rate of heterosexual AIDS in Africa to the fact that the rate of other STDs is much higher there than in the United States. At the same time, those infected with the AIDS virus are more likely to contract other diseases because of their damaged immunological systems.
At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, federal and state governments diverted resources from traditional STD programs to work on the new disease. Federal STD money is used for compiling epidemiological statistics, tracing contacts and providing education and training. Traditionally, the states operate clinics and provide medicine and treatment. Four or five years ago, both money and personnel were diverted from STD programs to AIDS work. That is when the rates of syphilis, gonorrhea and other venereal diseases began to climb. Cuts in federal funding of STD programs would be foolish, and it now appears that Congress will not go along with the administration's recommendation. In fact, if the surprising increases reflected in this year's early statistics continue, larger appropriations may be in order. It is important not to lose sight of the continuing need to combat more common STDs while making the all-important assault on AID