Health & Medicine

Helms' name on an AIDS relief bill? Shame on Dole

The U.S. Senate passed the HIV/AIDS relief bill last week, allotting $48 billion over five years toward fighting that disease, as well as malaria and tuberculosis, worldwide.

It is a program that President Bush has pushed for years, wangling $15 billion out of Congress five years ago. So this measure, called the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act, is triple that amount.

Bush will have to take some deserved hits for his hawkish foreign policy in the Middle East and for his seemingly blind-eye's view of the U.S. economy, but no one can fault him for his focus on helping AIDS sufferers worldwide find relief.

So, had North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole ­suggested adding Bush's name to the bill, no one would have argued.

But, no. Dole suggested that another name be added to the relief bill: Jesse Helms, the longtime North Carolina Republican senator, who died July 4 and who refused to support any legislation that would combat AIDS nationally, but who did give in a bit for worldwide AIDS relief about six years ago.

Helms equated AIDS with homosexuality and thought those, particularly in the United States, who contract AIDS did so of their own free will.

”There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy,“ Helms said when voting against AIDS research in the late 1980s.

In the mid 1990s, he even voted against re-funding the Ryan White Act, named for a boy who contracted AIDS from a drug transfusion.

In 2002, Helms said he could go along with AIDS relief elsewhere on this Earth, but that in the United States, AIDS was due to homosexual activity.

”I don't have any idea on changing my views on that kind of activity,“ he said, ”which is the primary cause of the doubling and redoubling of AIDS cases in the United States.“

Why would Dole think that adding Helms' name to the bill would honor him or even the folks the bill was proposing to help? There's no comment from her so far.

Helms ranted against gays for years, loudly and dis­respectfully. To even say AIDS in America is due to gay sex, despite all the stats handed out yearly by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is mind-boggling.

It is true that the CDC, which tracked the number of HIV/AIDS diagnoses in 33 states, recently reported an increase of HIV cases among gay men, especially among males ages 13 to 24.

The numbers were monitored from 2001 to 2006.

But what Helms didn't get is that AIDS is not a gay disease, even though gay men accounted for 46 percent of those new cases.

The rest are women, children and intravenous drug users.

Women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in the United States. It is the leading cause of death for black women, African and African-American, ages 25 to 34, ­according to the CDC.

In 2004, in the era when Helms was changing his stance for global relief, the only diseases causing more deaths of women than AIDS were cancer and heart disease.

Nevertheless, Dole deemed it worthy to try to add Helms' name to an AIDS relief bill.

Maybe she was trying to engender support for her re-election bid in November.

Maybe she somehow missed Helms' rants while her husband, Bob Dole, was a member of the Senate.

Or maybe she thought she could just slip it in so that history could find a reason to smile on Helms' legacy.

I don't know.

Fortunately, her attempt failed and the bill passed. It is awaiting a bit of refining by the House.

I'm sure those suffering with HIV/AIDS in Africa, India or right here at home wouldn't care whose name is on the bill as long as they received the medicines that can improve their quality of life.

But we should care. So should Elizabeth Dole.