While Americans died from AIDS, public health officials and homosexual groups waged political warfare that kept them from joining in the fight against the fast-growing epidemic, says the director of the Salt Lake City-County Health Department.
Dr. Harry L. Gibbons told the Ogden Surgical Society that more money was spent tracking down five deaths caused by poisoned Tylenol than on the first 1,000 AIDS cases.Gibbons had harsh words for New York City and San Francisco health commissioners in particular.
He said it was politically better for New York City officials to "err on the side of inaction" than to spend money to study what was first thought to be a homosexual problem only.
In San Francisco, health officials were reluctant to offend homosexuals by closing bathhouses, considered a prime area for the spread of the virus, Gibbons said.
Although then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein fought to shut them down, most health officials felt such action would at best be a symbolic attempt to stop the spread of AIDS. Instead, they stressed teaching so-called "safe sex" methods, which has sharply reduced the spread of the disease.
Meanwhile, federal officials were wrong, said Gibbons, not to take steps sooner to make sure the nation's blood bank supplies were not contaminated by the virus.
Gibbons said there have been 84,000 reported cases of AIDS worldwide. The United States has had 59,033 cases, of which 33,743 have resulted in death, he said. As of May 13, Utah has had 126 reported cases, and 80 of those individuals have died.
The number of people who have the AIDS virus but have not yet developed the disease is unknown.
Weber-Morgan County Health Department Director Mark Nichols said health officials generally think there are 50 to 100 people infected with the virus for every one who develops AIDS.
Gibbons encouraged doctors to be ready to answer questions from patients who will shortly be receiving an eight-page government brochure, "Understanding AIDS."
The mailing to 107 million homes, at a cost of $17 million to taxpayers, will begin Wednesday, Gibbons said.