The California Legislature's budget includes $25.4 million for research, education and social services connected with acquired immunedeficiency syndrome--the burgeoning AIDS epidemic that has struck 11,000 Americans in the last four years, killing 5,500 of them so far. The amount is $15 million more than Gov. George Deukmejian requested, so there is some chance that he will use his line-item veto to knock out all or part of the increase. He shouldn't. AIDS is one of the most serious public-health crises in modern times, and it continues to grow. The government can scarcely spend too much money combating this plague and assisting its victims.
The Legislature's large increase in AIDS money was based on a report of the AIDS Budget Task Force, chaired by Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), which recommended a wide variety of actions that the state should take. For example, in the area of research the task force recommended an additional $1 million for research at the University of California, $1 million for research at other institutions (which have not received grants before) and $2.3 million to make up for anticipated reductions in AIDS funding by the National Institutes of Health.
The Legislature's budget also would provide additional funds for public education and to broaden the Medi-Cal coverage for people who have the disease.
Among the most important of the Legislature's additions to the AIDS budget involves the alter-native blood-testing sites that it wisely created earlier this year. The sites were set up to make it possible for gay men, the major group of victims so far, to have their blood tested for AIDS antibodies without going to blood-donation centers. The idea was to protect the blood supply from a large number of donors in the high-risk group. At the same time, alternative testing sites protect the privacy of homosexual men and prevent the compilation of a list of them.
Though the AIDS blood test does not tell an individual whether he is going to get AIDS--it indicates only that he has been exposed to the virus and has developed antibodies--people who test positive find themselves in a difficult and frightening position. Many of them have experienced severe mental-health problems, and coroners have blamed fear of AIDS for a number of suicides. People who are told that their blood contains AIDS antibodies need counseling, and the Legislature has proposed spending $1.5 million to meet the mental-health needs of people tested for AIDS.
The governor should accept the whole package. The numbers of people who have AIDS and who have died from it are staggering. It is immoral to ignore the disease because homosexuals are its primary victims. In addition, it's dangerous. The disease is increasingly being diagnosed among heterosexuals, and projections are that it will follow the same course among straights as it has among gays. The need to stop it is urgent.