No longer ignored, AIDS funds just keep growing

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Date: Nov. 11, 1988
From: Science(Vol. 242, Issue 4880)
Publisher: American Association for the Advancement of Science
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,866 words

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No Longer Ignored, AIDS Funds Just Keep Growing AIDS IS FAST BECOMING the single largest program in the federal health bureaucracy. In the current fiscal year, federal spending for AIDS research and prevention will approach $1.3 billion and will for the first time overshadow the money spent on heart disease. Next year, money for AIDS will probably meet and perhaps even exceed government spending on cancer.

The ascendancy of AIDS to funding levels reached by heart disease and cancer, the nation's two leading causes of death, represents the culmination of a remarkable political process. Slowly, and then with growing urgency, Congress and the Reagan Administration have come to commit enormous resources to a disease that in the United States largely afflicts homosexual men an drug addicts. This commitment is remarkable and perhaps incongruous in view of the fact that Congress and the Administration often appear to be intolerant of these two groups. Indeed, Congress recently rejected legislation to protect carriers of the AIDS virus from discrimination for fear that the action could be interpreted as a gay rights bill (Science, 21 October, p. 367).

Whatever id driving the AIDS budget, be it compassion for the syndrome's sufferers, intense lobbying by gay activists, or fear that the human immunodeficiency virus will spread into the general population, the world has changed: AIDS is no longer an illness ignored.

While money for AIDS was sparse during the early, crucial years of the epidemic, the dollars are now flowing. The budget for the entire federal health bureaucracy has come to be expressed in terms of "AIDS" versus "non-AIDS" money. Funds earmarked for AIDS are currently supporting projects in every research institute in the Public Health Service. The missions of some federal agencies, in fact, have become synonymous with the epidemic, with as much as half of their budgets comprised of AIDS dollars.

Likewise, several major universities are getting big slices of the AIDS pie. Among the recipients at the top: the universities of California at Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Southern California, as well as Johns Hopkins, University of Miami, and Stanford.

In many ways, spending on AIDS in the late 1980s harks back to the period in the 1970s when funding for biomedical research exploded during the War on Cancer. "If you put the two sets of curves beside one another, they would be very parallel," sayd Peter Fischinger, the AIDS coordinator for the Public Health Service, and a veteran of the earlier war.

But even the funding surge for cancer cannot compare to the trajectory of AIDS spending. Unlike cancer dollars, AIDS funding started at zero in 1981. In 7 years, spending on the disease has doubled four times. It went up 90% last year. And 36% this year. Another substantial increase is expected in the coming fiscal...

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