Former Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin used to select what he deemed to be the biggest waste of money regarding a project in Congress, and he would then point it out and it would headline the six o’clock news. Let me take this opportunity to borrow his stage for a moment. The headline in a local newspaper last month stated, and I quote “AIDS Diagnosis Changes Victims’ Behavior, Study Says.” Did we really need a study to determine that? What would you think, your gut reaction; someone hears they have AIDS, do you think it changes their behavior or not? Did we need a government study? This study, which was done in Atlanta, and was done by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention involved 180 people in Alabama, New Jersey, and Tennessee. Ninety percent of those interviewed over two years, 1997 and 1998, indicated that after they learned they were HIV positive, they changed their sexual behavior. A large majority indicated that they used condoms more frequently and/or had sex less frequently. Is there a surprise here? Let me see now, a person learns he is HIV positive, does he become more sexually responsible or less so? We do hear horror stories of people who learn they are infected and then go out and attempt to infect others, but that is always pointed out as the exception to the rule. The rule, of course, is the logical one: the person learns he is HIV positive; the last thing in the world he wants is to give it to somebody else, so he becomes more sexually protective.
In order to tie a ribbon on this study, Patricia Sweney, a CDC epidemiologist concluded, “We generally found that once people that are infected know their status, they do adopt safer behaviors. It has tremendous public health implications.” So, in other words, it took two years to interview 180 people and from these interviews, they learned that when you are diagnosed with HIV, you become more sexually responsible.
Former Senator Proxmire used to find out what these studies cost so he could point to the incredible waste. I have been unable to determine the cost of this study, and perhaps it is just as well. It might be depressing to learn how much money could have been spent towards HIV research or cancer research or heart research or something more productive than confirming an obvious truism. To me this is the equivalent of studying whether or not two plus two equals four and making a pronouncement when one finds that it does. What a waste of money.