Factual · Powerful · Original · Iconoclastic
State of the Union addresses are like appendixes: They may serve a purpose but nobody knows what it is. So there’s always a temptation to insert into them a “moonshot goal” to show you’re doing Big Things.
This year, President Trump’s moonshot was ending HIV transmission in the United States by 2030.
Poor choice. For decades, the AIDS lobby has seized huge swaths of limited resources — not only funding but medical researchers — at the expense of diseases that kill far more people. This has to end.
Except, that is, by people not getting tested (which can also be done for free), not caring if their partners were tested, not getting treatment or not using prophylaxis pills or prophylactics (condoms). Even beyond the extent that the acts that spread AIDS are voluntary, so too is getting HIV.
Meanwhile HIV/AIDS continues to absorb an outrageous portion of the US federal research budget, robbing many diseases that are actually killing lots of people. HIV/AIDS spending per person is about 20 times more than cancer spending — and, stunningly, more than 40 times more per death. The State of the Union message could be used to open the spigot even wider.
Given how few people generally know these facts, there’s no reason to think Trump does. So what’s behind his call for the moonshot approach?
Actually, it’s not a what but a who: Robert Redfield, head of the CDC, an activist in a job that calls for an authority.
I’ve followed his career for decades. He’s known for outrageously alarmist statements and false research.
In my 1990 book, “The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS,” I devoted 24 pages to that. A sample: “Dr. Redfield, amazingly, has declared [the chances of] male-to-female vaginal HIV to be 50 percent per contact.” Yet data already available at that time showed that if neither partner had genital sores or other openings, odds approached zero.
Redfield always put activism ahead of research. In the early 1990s, he backed federal legislation that would have subjected people with HIV to forced testing and the loss of their professional licenses and would have effectively quarantined them. For a disease essentially transmitted by anal sex and transfer of blood?
Ever the headline-hunter, he also threw his weight behind an HIV vaccine in 1992 that was absolutely worthless.
Having spent most of his career being largely wrong about the most-hyped health crisis of our time, Redfield doesn’t go away: He keeps on pushing. Trump should have nothing to do with this flim-flam man, nor his boutique disease.
If I had to pick one disease to “declare war on,” to use terminology politicians love, it would be obesity. In the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that from 1988 to 2011 there were 186,000 premature US deaths from obesity. And we’ve gotten a damned sight fatter since then.
Now add in all the misery from overweight and obesity in terms of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis — and the list almost never ends.
Not that I think a “war on obesity” will work, either. It’s just a better goal. If we’ve got to have a moonshot cause, make it that.