- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 22, 2010

Abstinence. The most effective HIV/AIDS inhibitor known to man. Antiretroviral drugs. Some of the most effective inhibitors made by man.

Both are lifesavers, yet the former mistakenly gets short shrift.

GlaxoSmithKline and Shionogi Inc. announced this week that they are in the final stages of clinical testing on the next-generation antiretroviral drug, called S/GSK1349572. Merck & Co. and another pharmaceutical, Gilead, have HIV-fighting drugs, too.

You may not have heard the news about these updates, all part of the good, the bad and the ugly at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria, which wraps up Friday.

Much of the work at the biennial confab was overshadowed by venomous protesters and the blame-America crowd, who say the U.S. president and U.S. taxpayers aren’t spending enough money to battle the dreaded disease.

Shame on them, because we aren’t shortchanging anyone when it comes to funding. The ledgers prove that Americans have been leading the way since Day One nearly 30 years ago.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t shortchanging ourselves, though. When it comes to our moral consciousness, which urges us to push abstinence, we fall way short. Today, with millions dead and dying, we face the same crossroads we did in the 1980s, when the “gay men’s disease” first began its puzzling and deadly course.

We know what causes HIV, and each year, innovative researchers discover more about how to treat the meandering virus. And, praise the Lord, Americans willingly fork over tens of billions of dollars for research, testing and treatment.

But what about prevention?

Handing out clean needles and condoms should not be our first line of defense. Both widespread policies enable risky behavior that can lead to transmitting sexually transmitted diseases and new HIV infections.

Have we lost sight of the obvious reason why Congress, a full decade after HIV/AIDS became a public health menace, tacked the words “and prevention” onto the title of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Unlike polio, measles, pertussis and other communicable diseases monitored by the CDC because of the threats to public health, HIV/AIDS has no vaccine or immunization to prevent infection.

And while we rightly no longer call it the “gay men’s disease,” the bottom line regarding infection remains unchanged: risky behavior; sharing IV drug needles; multiple sex partners; contaminated blood transfusions; homosexual sex; heterosexual sex; breast-feeding; male and female prostitution.

Need I say more?

Thank goodness for faith communities that still accept the Bible as the gospel. While hundreds of demonstrators hurled criticisms at Americans, faith leaders continued along the third rail of HIV/AIDS - that is, changing human behavior.

It would be nice if those same Cain-raisers in Vienna and their American cohorts would focus more energy on preventing new infections.

Even President Obama’s new HIV/AIDS strategy, whether you agree with all or part of his approach, zeroes in on prevention on our own home front, where 56,000 new infections are recorded each year.

For sure, we must continue providing assistance to people already infected. Not to do so would be inhumane. But in order to really and truly combat HIV/AIDS, we must attack the disease on the front end. Americans willingly fall in line when it comes to such preventive measures as smoke detectors, seat belts, vaccinations, recycling and the like. There even are movements that rail against animal fur, animal testing, and dog- and cockfighting.

The same common sense should be the rule of thumb regarding HIV/AIDS prevention.

Yet there is no “Just don’t do it!” movement.

- Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com