Health Experts Glad Reagan Cited AIDS : Pleased by Attention, Disappointed He Did Not Quell School Fear
While expressing disappointment that President Reagan did not use his nationally televised news conference to urge--as the federal Centers for Disease Control have done--that parents allow their children to attend school with AIDS victims, researchers, doctors and parents of AIDS victims said Wednesday that they were gratified that “at least he is talking” about the disease.
Reagan, asked at his news conference Tuesday night whether he would send a child of his own to school with classmates who had AIDS, expressed sympathy for both sides in the furor. But he failed to endorse recommendations issued recently by the CDC saying that children with AIDS pose no risk and should be permitted to attend regular classes.
“The recommendations came about as a result of a panel of experts including a whole variety of people,” said Dr. Ann Hardy, a CDC epidemiologist in the AIDS branch. “We stand by them. We feel they are good.”
Dr. Brian Novick, clinical professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, who is treating about 90 children with AIDS, said that he was “glad someone asked him about AIDS” but that the President missed “an opportunity to make some very positive, direct statements about AIDS and children.”
Novick said he fears now that parents will “quote the President and say, ‘Gee, even the President doesn’t come out and support the medical experts--how can he expect us to send our children to school?’ Given the current information and the circumstances, he could have been much more definite.”
“He is actually commenting on it publicly--that’s a start,” said Dr. Paul A. Volberding, an AIDS researcher and oncologist who directs the AIDS clinic at San Francisco General Hospital. “I had been concerned that there has been no comment at all from his office, given the seriousness of the epidemic.”
However, on the question of whether children with AIDS should be allowed to attend school, Volberding added: “I don’t think the President’s remarks reflect what most experts in the field feel about that issue. Most of us feel that kids with AIDS should be allowed to participate in normal activities. Perhaps his reaction means he hasn’t learned enough about AIDS yet. The information is clearly there, and I hope he is becoming more educated.”
Jeanne White, the mother of Ryan, a 13-year-old AIDS victim from Kokomo, Ind., who has been barred from his school, said she believes that Reagan did not forcefully back the health agency recommendations because he “just didn’t want to hear from a bunch of angry parents.”
Ryan White, a hemophiliac who contracted AIDS through the use of contaminated blood products, has been monitoring his classes via a telephone hookup in his home.
‘People Are Afraid’
“He (President Reagan) knows the facts,” White’s mother said. “But he also knows people are afraid. He’s just concerned about all the letters he might get from parents. It’s easy to step away from the situation if you don’t know anyone with AIDS.”
She said she would like to say to the President: “ ‘Do you want to meet a great kid--who has AIDS?’ I bet he’d say, ‘Yeah.’ And I bet he wouldn’t be afraid to shake his hand or anything.”
AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is an incurable, usually fatal disease caused by a virus that destroys the body’s immune system, leaving it vulnerable to otherwise rare infections.
Infected Mothers Cited
In adults, the disease is transmitted through sexual contact by the exchange of bodily fluids, through sharing unsterilized hypodermic needles and through transfusions of contaminated blood or blood products. Those at highest risk include male homosexuals and bisexuals, intravenous drug users and their steady sexual partners. The majority of infected children acquired the disease from infected mothers during pregnancy or through transfusions.